by Sawyer J. Lahr
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George Clooney is American hit man Jack or Edward, depending on what gorgeous foreign woman is in his presence. Unlike his usual charming self, he couldn’t have any less personality as a serious hit man in a mid-life crisis. Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, The American is an understated thriller leaving something to be desired in Clooney’s performance.
As the reformed Catholic priest who befriends him says, “Hell exists, and your living in it.” Jack is dead, yet what brings him to life is his fondness for women who are good with guns and better than him in bed. Contrary to the publicized synopsis, the character of Jack doesn’t quit his job but is sent by his contact to lay low in a small Italian village called Castelvecchio where he’s being closed in on by mysterious enemy Swedes. The town is a place Jack quickly grows fond of while building a machine gun rifle with a silencer out of spare car parts for an upcoming job being carried out by Matilde, a professional dutch hitwoman.
A craftsman at heart whose flaw is falling in love, Jack gets trapped by his weakening belief in his work. It’s unusual to see such a self-doubting, less debonair Clooney take sex lessons from his prostitute love interest Clara (Violante Placido). Meanwhile, he can’t forget the innocent romantic partner he killed to protect his identity, Ingrid (Best Actress winner at the Finnish Jussi Awards).
Besides the boring gun talk trying to be overtly sexy, most of the action happens between Jack’s hands as he’s tinkering and some in the bedroom. There are plenty of point-blank kills to unsettle the quiet landscapes and quaint streets of the village. Corbijn builds tension rather than wreck-less stunts like the recent James Bond films by the bankrupt MGM studio. The American proves that more big-budget action loses integrity fast, but not audience attention.
Jack isn’t elegant but he’s precise. Like each frame, Jack is almost too composed, but suddenly Corbijn breaks the silence with a surprise from the editing room. Few moments seem wasted, though the pace is slower than most thrillers of late such as Salt. The American is a classic return to the spy genre in the language of 60s and 70s Bond films and Spaghetti Westerns. The inspired musical score references the Sergio Leone film, The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, which plays in a restaurant where Jack knocks back a few shots to help him sleep before another threat is made on his life.
The American opened in theaters September 1st and is distributed by Focus Features.
Sawyer J. Lahr is Chief Editor of the forthcoming online publication, Go Over the Rainbow. He also writes a monthly film column for Mindful Metropolis, a conscious living magazine in Chicago, IL.
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