The American (2010)

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The Assassin's Retirement Plan....THE AMERICAN

Sep 1, 2010
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great cinematography, deep character study, good performances, George Clooney's Butt.

Cons:Not an action movie; a slow, deep drama.

The Bottom Line: An intelligent serious movie.  This ain't James Bond.  Great if you like complex psychology, otherwise....


The American (2010) Directed by Anton Corbijn

This is not 007.  This is not Jason Bourne.  This sure as heck is not Hitman.  This is the life of an assassin.

Jack (George Clooney) is relaxing in a cabin in the snowy woods with Ingrid (Irina Björklund).  They go out for a walk in the snow, and encounter a single line of tracks.  This immediately causes Jack to go into survival mode, which saves his life and Ingrid's.  They are shot at.  Jack moves to a better position, and shoots back.  Poor Ingrid is freaking out.  Jack orders her to go back to the cabin and call the police.  At least Ingrid had no clue what was coming when Jack shoots her in the back of the head.  You see, Ingrid knew Jack's face, and now, unfortunately, she knew he was tied into the world of wetwork.  Jack couldn't allow her to live.  He quickly deals with the second assassin, and then he is on the move.

Rome.  Jack calls his handler, Pavel (Johan Leysen) and they arrange a meet.  Jack wants to know who the Swedes were, and how they found him.  Pavel sends Jack to a village to hide for a few days, and tells him he has a job for him as well.  Jack heads into the Italian hills, and waits, making contact with Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) a fellow operator, who needs a gun with very specific capabilities.  Jack also makes contact with some of the locals; Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and on the other side of that equation, Clara (Violante Placido) a member in good standing of the world's oldest profession.

Yet the assassins find him again, and again it is kill or be killed.  How are they finding him?  Who has ordered him eliminated?

His relationship with the priest shows us several things; one, the old priest is perceptive (as old priests often are) but by the same token it tells you something else; Jack (now called Edward) is slipping.  The father sees far too much.  Something else that I found revealing; Jack/Edward has a tattoo of a butterfly on his back.  He likes butterflies.  And he bought a book on Lepidoptera to pass the time in his little Italian hideaway.  If I wanted him dead, I would post someone at the local bookstore to see who buys books on butterflies.  Edward is falling into habits.

And nowhere is this clearer than with Clara.  Clara looks a heck of a lot like Ingrid.  Apparently Edward has a ‘type'.  And he won't hire another prostitute when Clara is not available.  Further, when having sex, Clara won't let him kiss her (a very common taboo in the profession).  Edward steps up his game until he can kiss her.  And they date.  Yeah, Jack is falling down on the job at the professional killer, no ties, no patterns thing...and it may cost him everything.

This is not an action film.  At its most ferocious action, Edward is chasing an assassin in a car while riding a commandeered Vespa.  It isn't cool, high speed, or stunt driving.  It is about getting close enough to make the shot.  It is grim and dirty, and very much ‘him or me.'  It comes closer to being a character study.  The problem with that description is that Jack/Edward is not a sympathetic character.  While George Clooney is a joy to watch, Jack is very emotional flat, and honestly, probably not all that likeable.  We see a wealth of subtle emotion on Clooney's face, but the upshot is, Jack is terrified that someone is gunning for him, and eventually, they might get him, and they aren't leaving him enough clues.  (He sure doesn't believe in asking questions; he kills the opposition quick, and then tries to find clues.)  There are elements of romance, sort of obscured by the sex (and there is some very nice nudity), but it is not a romantic drama.

It is very intense, it is very cinema verite, and it is very honest.  The question is does that make it enjoyable?

I rather liked it.  But understand, I really like psychological studies that let you perform an analysis on the screen.  It played to my passions.  If you go into it thinking this is going to be Ocean's One, or some sort of James Bondian spy thriller, you are going to be very disappointed.  I think this is one that will get critical acclaim from the art film crowd, and will do rather poorly at the box office.  I am going to rate it well, because it is well done, but I am afraid for the average movie goer, I can't recommend it.


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