Review: The American

The American

Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Irina Björklund, Thekla Reuten, Johan Leysen, Paolo Bonacelli.

Director: Anton Corbijn

The poster for The American would seem to promise the viewer another gun-toting action movie, but the reality of George Clooney’s latest is quite different. The American is essentially an inaction movie and one that is none-the-poorer for it. Photographer Anton Corbijn’s follow-up to his debut, Control, is the anti-Bourne. Much more European art house than American blockbuster, the movie focuses on lone assassin Jack as he hides out from unknown pursuers in a small Italian village, Castel Del Monte. Quietly deciding that it’s time to retire, he befriends the local priest, becomes engaged in a tentative relationship with prostitute Clara and busies himself preparing a rifle for female assassin, Mathilde. However, his pursuers, and possibly his boss, have different plans for him.

The American is a strange proposition in that this a character study of a man with little definable character. Jack is more a collection of past deeds than a person, and the movie bravely opens with a scene that may leave many with no sympathy for the man at all. Clooney successfully muffles the natural charm which has been his bread and butter, and delivers a brilliantly understated performance which only gives the merest hints of who he is. Remote, silent and expressionless, Jack is a shadow. There are flashes of guilt and conscience, but Jack isn’t really seeking redemption. He’s lonely and just doesn’t want to do this anymore. After all, he’s perfectly content to build a weapon so someone else can kill. And if the outcome seems obvious it doesn’t matter. The American is about the journey rather than the destination.

As you would expect from a movie directed by a photographer, The American looks gorgeous. The film has a wonderful Italian sensibility; the locations are stunning, the women voluptuous and Clooney spends half the movie sitting in coffee shops. The pacing is languid, spreading its spare story thinly and inviting you to seek out the details. Even the single action scene is short and rather relaxed by American standards.

George clearly hadn't forgiven Joel Schumacher for Batman and Robin

The American is not for those who enjoy bang for their buck, or tidily resolved narratives with moral convictions. It doesn’t answer all the questions, nor explain all the details. It simply absorbs through mood, image and a solid central performance from Clooney. The American II is not on the horizon. These things make the movie something of a welcome breath of fresh air.

Rating - 4 Stars

10 people thought reading “Review: The American” would be a good idea. Stranger still, they left messages...

  1. deborahatherton

    I think you’ve just invented a new genre – the inaction movie. It may not do well with the summer blockbuster crowd, but I alredy like it.

  2. rtm

    I was really intrigued by the gorgeous retro poster, but my friends who saw this said it was utterly boring. I for one don’t mind a bit of nuance and stillness in movies, so I still might check it out once it’s on Netflix. I’m not a big fan of Clooney in general though, so I’m hoping the story is captivating enough for me as simply watching him sipping coffee or cleaning his gun for 2 hours might not do it for me :)

    1. Richard

      You might be out of luck there, then. I didn’t find it boring but I could understand how some might. I’m a big fan of Clooney, so I had an advantage.

  3. Dan

    Clooney so reminds me of Cary Grant in North by Northwest on the poster of this one. Being a fan of Corbijn’s work I know his sensibilites and I think if you’re in the right frame of mind for The American then you’ll get a lot out of it.

    1. Richard

      Clooney gets that comparison a lot these days, but this is probably the movie where he’s least like that. You’re right about the frame of mind. This is one of those movies that will suffer from the expectations of the viewer somewhat.

  4. Margaret Reyes Dempsey

    I watched this tonight. I don’t mind “inaction” movies and there’s nothing better than a character study, when there’s actually a character to study. I didn’t find one in this film. “Spreading its spare story thinly” was a good way to put it, Rich, but in the end there weren’t details to seek out and I was left with a lot of “whys.” I just didn’t see the point. With that said, I agree it was a beautiful movie aesthetically. Made me long for the passageways of Sperlonga and the coffee of Triestina.


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