The American (R)
Director: Anton Corbijn
Cast: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Irina Björklund
Adapted from A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, the film plays on what our expectations of an international-assassin story have come to be. George Clooney is Jack, a killer for hire, or at least a man who makes weapons for such men. Dashing and studly as he is, however, Jack is no James Bond. He doesn’t skip across the continents looking for evil villains to climactically bring to justice; Jack is more focused on just not getting killed, considering everyone and their uncle is after this guy for one reason or another.
The first scene in the film sets the tone perfectly, giving us just enough of a hint to realize that this is one mysterious and shagadelic hombre, but at this point in his life, he does much more running than he does chasing, and he’s willing to do absolutely anything to stay alive.
The film is going to be a little slow for some, maybe even most, but it does the perfect job of allowing us to step inside Jack’s world. The pace of the film gives us a sense of the quiet tediousness and ever-lurking fear of living alone as a soon-to-be retired assassin. The vast and gorgeous establishing shots of the Italian countryside contrast the solitude and confinement of Jack’s everyday life. He doesn’t really do anything, other than put weapons together at home and occasionally visit the local brothel. His life isn’t glamorous or intriguing, it’s downright boring most of the time, with occasional bursts of excitement (read: fear) whenever he discovers and must attempt to dispatch another person who’s trying to kill him. Because of this, we are allowed to slowly ask questions along with him, and to understand and sympathize with his gradually rising sense of suspicion.
Because of his past, all the enemies he’s made, and his constant over-the-shoulder glances, he can’t trust a soul, and has to assume that everyone is out to get him, which can be somewhat detrimental to making and semblance of “friends”. The only people allowed within a few steps of him are a prostitute and an inquisitive preacher, both able, through different means, to find a way to bring him closer and reveal his human qualities.
Clooney’s performance was brilliant, and reminded me of those small films that best demonstrate his talents, such as Good Night and Good Luck, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Syriana, and Michael Clayton. He can be goofy with the Coen brothers, charming in the Ocean series, and downright fun in Leatherheads, but films like these are where his true talent shines.
The American is allegorical to the world-view and international relations of our country today; we are given the task of creating a weapon of destruction (one of the categories, as opposed to education, of course, in which America leads the world), we show our distrust of the nations around us, and their distrust of us, and, through the prostitute and the preacher, we are given the hint that there just might be a way to save us all, or at least to redeem ourselves, in the open arms of Love or the soulful submission to Faith. In Jack’s acceptance and execution of one final, possibly deadly task, we see not only our technological prowess and thus the threat we pose to our enemies, but our fortitude, our ingenuity, our will, and the humanity behind the choices we make.