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The American (Review)

The American (Review)

The woes of being an assassin
Nov 13, 2010
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The American
Genre: Crime, Drama Release Date: 11/11/2010 Runtime: 105 minutes Country: USA


Director:  Anton Corbijn Writer(s): 
Rowan Joffe

Martin Booth

Cast: George Clooney, Irina Björklund, Johan Leysen, Paolo Bonacelli, Thekla Reuten, Violante Placido
The American (Review), reviewed by Paj Sandhu on 2010-11-13T11:56:41+00:00 rating 3.5 out of5

George Clooney has come a long way since the psychologically scarring days of Batman & Robin. It almost seems as though most of his performances in recent years have been dedicated to eradicating the memory of that tragic appearance as the Dark Knight. The American, written by Rowan Joffe (28 Weeks Later) as an adaptation of the Martin Booth novel “A Very Private Gentleman” and directed by Anton Corbijn (Control), is one more step along that road for Clooney, delivering a powerfully controlled performance in what is a dark, character-driven suspense thriller.

Clooney (Up in the Air) plays a non-descript American man who is in actuality a masterful professional assassin, alternatively called both Jack and Edward, though with no clear indication which of these, if any, is his real name. After a confronting opening scene with a run in with a group of Swedish assassins who want him dead, Jack flees to Italy to rendezvous with his contact Pavel, played by Johan Leysen (Soeur Sourire). Here he takes on a relatively low risk job assembling a custom sniper rifle for another assassin, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten; In Bruges), as he hides out in a picturesque countryside town. A nosy priest neighbour, played by Paolo Bonacelli (Mission Impossible 3), tries to ingratiate himself to this mysterious American, but Jack/Edward is far more consumed with his task at hand and a developing tryst with a local prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido; Sleepless). However the deeper this quiet, brooding assassin delves into his assignment, the more the strain of his chosen profession begins to show.

As a story, The American poses many questions and mysteries – especially regarding Clooney’s enigmatic assassin – but few of them are fully fleshed out or answered through the course of the movie. Surprisingly, however, this lack of context seems to work in the film’s favour. Instead of elaborate webs of conspiracy and rich back stories, The American is bare and minimalist, depicting the assassin in the midst of his immediate circumstances, subtly intimating the cracks that are beginning to show in his complex character.

2010 the american 0201 e1289611354769 700x364 The American (Review)

For a film about a hitman, there is relatively little action to speak of, yet Corbijn expertly maintains an edge-of-your-seat tension throughout. Clooney’s assassin is a consummate professional, but years in the occupation has made him cautious and exceedingly paranoid, driven by finely honed survival instincts that provide some of the most interesting and shocking moments of the movie. One can’t help being drawn into that same awful sense of paranoia (justified or not) where danger potentially lurks around every corner; often in the form of ordinary people or routine situations. It is a powerfully wearying sensation, one heightened by Corbijn’s astute direction, grounding the film in an unglorified – almost mundane – realism that serves to make the tension all the more frightening and unbearable. In keeping with this refined tenor, Clooney delivers a masterfully restrained, subtle performance, revealing his character in tiny fragments right up until the emotionally powerful climax.

The Italian setting of small medieval towns and rolling hills is visually magnificent, yet Corbijn cunningly drains the locale of its typical charm and warmth, portraying it as a place teeming with hidden threats. That being said, the film is of a very slow pace; scenes that appear to be on the verge of something momentous suddenly fall away, breaking the build-up of tension and atmosphere in a way that isn’t exactly jarring, but is nevertheless disappointing.

Ultimately, The American is a character piece, and in this it succeeds terrifically. It is an intensely focused and intimate portrayal of a shady character in a very dangerous line of work, exploring the ambiguity of where a man’s humanity begins and ends. Anyone looking for an action romp should look elsewhere, but for those who want compelling characterisation and restrained drama, The American is well worth a shot.

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