An assassin hides out in Italy for one last assignment.
Writers: Rowan Joffe (screenplay), Martin Booth (novel)
Director: Anton Corbijn
Stars: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli and Violante Placido
Runtime: 105 Minutes
Popcorn Score: Large Popcorn
The American is definitely a slow burn. I think that if someone had the wrong expectations going into watching it they could view the film as slow, or even a little boring. I first saw this movie when it came out in theaters and walking into the local movie house that night I did have a slight misconception of what I was about to see. The movie trailers I remember showed Clooney running around with guns and people falling off buildings, the movie poster has a cutout of him sprinting with gun in hand. The movie I saw did not offer much of that at all and I remember leaving the theater feeling a little misled, and just a little disappointed.
It has been almost 2 years now and I just finished “The American” for a 2nd time. Because enough time had passed and, like I mentioned, the movie didn’t have much of an impact on me, I would say I forgot 90% of what happens in the film. All I remembered was to go in to it with a much more patient mood, and expectations for a calmer more internal action thriller.
With those realistic expectations, I thought The American was absolutely spectacular. The movie sucked me in with its slow and classical style. The movie is about an American man who has worked in hired crime his whole life as a hit man, gun maker and I would believe just about anything else. At the beginning of the movie he has presumably ran away from the life living in a cabin in the snowy mountains of Sweden. He is accompanied, as we often see George Clooney, with a beautifully naked woman. We don’t get to enjoy that for long though. Within minutes he is launched back into the real world as Swedes begin raining bullets down on him and his lover. He gets away and negotiates with his boss to play a small part in one last job and then he will be done with everything.
The rest of the movie isn’t as much an action film as it is an internal battle within the mind Clooney’s character (Sometimes known as Mr. Butterfly due to a tattoo he has on his upper back) trying to separate what is real and what is imaginative, if someone is after him or if he is safe. He has gotten to the point in his life where he tragically cannot trust anyone.
He meets the beautiful Clara, played by Violante Placido, working in the red light district in the Italian city that he is working/hiding out in. They form an immediate, and paid for, sexual bond that after multiple visits quickly becomes more than that. It could become what he sees as his escape and a new start with someone after everything is over.
Watching the bonus features on the DVD, the director explains how they wanted to symbolize a modern day western. A story about a man that has devoted his life to a profession is now facing the depression, loneliness and pain that a life like he has lived will bring on. He is trying to get out but is realizing that may not be an option. Another point that director Anton Corbijn discusses is that he wanted to show the scarce hollow towns and streets of Italy that we typically do not see in the movies. Corbijn, who is a photographer by trade, made that very obvious in the film with his large but dreary, lonely shots.
I would urge anyone who missed “The American” upon its release to go out and rent it. I found it from my very resourceful Seattle Public Library! I also encourage anyone who carries the same mixed feeling that I did about it when they saw it the first time to re-watch it with the proper mindset. If you go into this movie with the right expectations, it will not let you down.