By Mat DeKinder
This means that those expecting this story of an assassin taking on the proverbial “one last job” to be a slam-bam action movie in the vein of a Jason Bourne outing will be sorely disappointed.
Instead “The American” is a quiet, contemplative character study that in spite of its almost dangerously leisurely pace and metaphors as obvious as a two-by-four to the forehead, it is still a fine film most definitely worthy of your attention.
Dutch director Anton Corbijn (who has spent most of his career making music videos for the likes of U2 and Depeche Mode) boasts a European sensibility and eye for detail, especially when it comes to studying the Italian countryside and beautiful women.
It is very easy to compare “The American” to the Man With No Name movies Sergio Leone made with Clint Eastwood in the 1960s. In case we weren’t able to figure it out on our own, Corbijn drives this point home with a sledgehammer by including a scene that features Leone’s “Once Upon a Time in the West”.
While both Clooney and Eastwood stand out as flawed, yet powerful and resourceful enigmas (which I suspect is how many Europeans see America) Leone’s spaghetti westerns not only imported Eastwood’s badass-itude but a uniquely American genre to be emulated and turned on its ear.
Corbijn’ aspirations are not nearly that high, and he’s really not all that interested in American cinema. Clooney’s character does ride into town without a name but this movie could just as easily be about a Belgian assassin as an American one.
Fortunately for us, our assassin is George Clooney, a respectable actor who, national affiliation aside, can be just as steely as he is charming, which makes him fascinating to watch even when he’s not doing much.
The plot is simple enough: Inexplicably on the run from Swedish assassins, Clooney hides out in a scenic Italian village where in spite of his best efforts to avoid human contact he winds up befriending a priest (Paolo Bonacelli), which allows for some convenient discussions of morality.
Clooney’s “last job” consists of constructing a rifle for a fetching female assassin named Mathilde (Thelka Reuten). While a few sparks fly between the pair, it is a beautiful prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) who winds up stealing his heart. I will say this, if Italian hookers are half as attractive as Placido, it would certainly go a long way towards explaining the country’s relaxed attitude towards the world’s oldest profession.
As you would expect, it is Clooney who carries this movie as the guy can convey inner turmoil for days, and it also doesn’t hurt that he’s bulked up to the point that he looks like he could snap a dude’s neck without a second thought.
The ending of “The American” is a tad anticlimactic if not painfully predictable, but it doesn’t detract much from the movie as a whole.
The movie also serves as a good palate cleanser for the end of summer as Hollywood prepares for Oscar season. At the very least it is the perfect movie for anyone who has always wanted to see a foreign film but hates to read subtitles. Who says there’s not a movie out there for everybody?