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The American (A Movie Review)

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

The American

The American


Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen, Filippo Timi and Irina Björklund.

Screenplay by Martin Booth.

Directed by Anton Corbijn.

Distributed by Focus Features.  105 minutes.  Rated R.

The American is the second movie directed by celebrated photographer Anton Corbijn, so as you can imagine, it looks stunning.

However, there is a huge difference between still photography and moving pictures.  Movies have to move (hence the name…) and The American moves kind of slow.  It is moody and dour and just a tiny bit meandering.

The American is sort of an artier, much more serious and usually less violent variation on In Bruges, in which a hardened assassin must spend an extended period in a small European hamlet and comes to be charmed by the locals and the beautiful scenery – and a gorgeous woman of questionable legality.  However, as much as he wants to settle into a calmer existence in this medieval village, the violence of his past keeps rearing up.

Actually, here, the violence is always in the background, but as often as not it is the American killer’s own paranoia that haunts him.  He imagines potential violence that often never happens.  Before a rather bloody final showdown, many of the American’s perceived booby traps turn out to be false alarms cooked up in his own fevered self-preservation.

Just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you. However, the assassin’s halting steps towards trust, friendship and love are always countered by the natural mistrust of human nature that was bred into the man through years of violent experience.

The guy has completely cut emotions out of his life – in the prologue we watch him coldly shoot a lover in the back of the head, simply because she had the bad fortune to witness him being ambushed by Swiss assassins who were hunting him down.  (Aren’t the Swiss supposed to be neutral?)

Wow, George Clooney, you’re trying to change the nice guy image, huh?

Clooney does a good job playing Jack, a man so cut off from his own humanity for so long that he almost sees human emotions as a weakness.

After the botched ambush, a crime boss sends Jack to a little Italian village to stay out of sight while things cool off.  Jack spends most of his time alone – drinking at local cafes, exercising, taking pictures (his cover story is that he is a photographer working on a travel book), visiting a small secluded lake and exploring the town.

However, Jack finally lowers his defenses – somewhat – in two relationships he makes in the town.  He befriends an older, imperfect-but-pragmatic priest who sees the dark overtones in Jack, but also sees inherent goodness beneath his tough exterior.

Then Jack tentatively enters a relationship with a stunningly gorgeous local prostitute (Violante Placido) – starting as a regular customer but quickly becoming her boyfriend.  (Because, yeah, that happens.  Well, okay, maybe it does when you look like George Clooney and are smoldering and mysterious.)

Therefore, finally seeing an opportunity for a normal life, Jack tells the crime boss that he wants out after one last job – and anyone who has ever seen a crime drama knows what that means.

The American has some great moments, looks absolutely gorgeous and features a strong lead performance by Clooney, however it is one of the more bloodless (figuratively as well as literally) films about an assassin in a while.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 All rights reserved. Posted: September 16, 2010.

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