September 14, 2010

Movie Review: The American

theamerican1_largeThis is an interesting movie. The American is part 1970's style character study, part traditional hit man picture, and part star vehicle. It is a movie that is not going to appeal to everyone. Do not be fooled, it is an excellent film, perhaps not great, but it does feature a star doing what he does best. It is a story that I found very easy to become involved in and one that I was interested in seeing what would happen, even becoming invested in the main character.

When I went in, I had an idea of what to expect. The promotional materials had an old school bend to them. The poster looked to be right out of the 1970's, perhaps even 1960's. I could see that poster with someone like Michael Caine or Steve McQueen on it back in the day. Then there is the trailer. It does not exactly give a proper representation of the film, but it does show that the focus is squarely on George Clooney's character, hints at a slower pace and generally reveals the film is not going to be your standard slick actioner.

The story is nothing original. In fact, you may consider it staid and boring. Fortunately, this movie is more about the execution and what it doesn't tell than what it does. I sat in the theater waiting for some sort of big story shift, some manner of explosive action, or anything that would put it more in line with what we expect from Hollywood, for better or for worse. When it did not happen, I found myself relieved. More that that, I left the theater with a satisfied smile on my face. Yes, it did feel familiar, but it also felt fresh, pleasantly subdued, and distinctly different from the norm. The American is something of a palette cleanser after a summer of big budget features.


The American opens with George Clooney's Jack spending some quiet time with a lady friend in, I believe, Sweden. An early morning walk around a snow covered lake suddenly finds them taking fire. He successfully gets the drop on them and takes of for an Italian getaway. Apparently Jack is being sought by some not very nice individuals.

Jack's Italian getaway is used to get him back off the radar before he can move onto his next job. The problem is that the Swedish debacle is resting heavily on his mind. Beyond that, the small country town sees Jack become friends with a local priest as well as finding solace with a prostitute. Making friends aside, he does take a job as a specialized weapons maker. Everything builds to a conclusion that is part heartbreaking, part shocking, part inevitable.

Yeah, yeah, I hear you. You've seen this story before, nothing new here. I agree with you. However, director Anton Corbijn brings flavor to it by holding back. It is a told in a way that seems to go out of its way not to tell you anything. Sounds maddening, right? It can be, especially if you are waiting for the story to take off. Well, it can be until you realize that the plot isn't the story, that there really is no story. The American is simply about watching this one person and how life has caught up with him as he realizes something, something is missing, that he doesn't want to do it anymore, anything.


I kept looking right as the movie went left. I am sure I missed the important details of what was going on, I am not always the most observant. Still, even without "getting it" as much as I probably could, I enjoyed he heck out of this movie. The languid pacing let you absorb the gorgeous cinematography. allowed you to watch the characters move purposefully about their business.

At the center of everything is George Clooney and I have to say that he is a movie star in the classic sense. There is this amazing quality that he brings the screen that I cannot quite describe. Is he my favorite actor? No, but his charisma is undeniable. You can even see his development into classic movie star since his ER days. Gone is that head bobble he does so often, in its place is a confidence, a maturity, an ability to convey a lot with a little. He has little here, at least in an external fashion, this character is highly internalized. We do not get a lot, but if you watch Clooney, you learn all you need.

Bottomline. This is a very good movie that features a strong lead performance. You certainly need to be in the right mood to watch it, but I think it will reward multiple viewings. So, if you are in the mood for a little something different, give this a chance. You may be surprised to like what you find.


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