September 26, 2010

The American

The American is James Bond minus the camp. George Clooney, who is himself beginning to show his age, plays Jack, an assassin in hiding, who relocates from Sweden to a rural Italian village after his cover is blown. There he falls in love with a prostitute (Violante Placido) while working on his latest assignment: designing a very complex weapon for a hit that somebody else is going to make.

Jack feels at odds with his age. There are scenes of him trying to maintain his virility (working out, making love to his new-found girlfriend, and carrying out some impressive stunts as he flees the occasional trigger man on his trail). It's like Paul Newman in The Drowning Pool: Clooney's no spring chicken but he can still put up a good fight.

The movie is in as much conflict with itself as Jack. It looks and feels European (and not just because of the filming locations), visually speaking. The visually arresting images take their time, and the dialogue comes only in spurts. We're made to endure Clooney's paranoid unraveling as though we had nothing better to do. The impending tragedy of Jack's empty life as an assassin is only marginally interesting: Clooney is better when he can talk his way through a movie, so after a while, we get restless, bored of the endless scenes of Jack looking stoic and going through the motions. Only during his moments of paranoia do we get even a shade of his emotions, which appear to have dried up long ago. And I suppose that's the point of it all, but getting the audience to feel empathy for an assassin is uphill work, and the director (Anton Corbijn) doesn't really pull it off.

A few scenes between Jack and a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) seem like obvious and contrived attempts at being deep. Jack's was never to be a religious salvation. The action scenes are quite exciting, but they are few and far between. (And perhaps they're more exciting because the rest of the movie is so slow.) It's not a complete failure, but The American probably won't please those seeking non-stop thrills, and those looking for something very deep might be left scratching their heads. The script is by Rowan Joffe from Martin Booth's novel, A Very Private Gentleman. ½

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