The American (2010) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
29Dec/100

The American (2010)

Andrew DISLIKEThe American is an overly portentous miscalculation in that most appealing of all independent movie genres, the existential assassin.  It seems like we get one or two of these movies every year and for all the excess style flowing out of The American, it's probably good that we got just the one for 2010.  It's difficult to point to just one thing in the film and say "It's all wrong", it just all coalesces into a deeply unsatisfying film experience.

It starts off promisingly enough.  We watch as Jack (George Clooney) is enjoying a quiet day in Sweden with a lover when they decide to go for a walk.  Then he notices another pair of tracks, the loud cracking sound of something smashing into the rock nearby, and then...surprise.  I must say that these opening moments did not have a completely expected payoff and it worked wonderfully.

However, the rest of the film works exactly like this sort of existential assassin movie typically does.  Jack goes into hiding, receives ominous instructions from his boss to whom Jack insists that this will be his last job.  An overworked cliche but ok.  The job in question is to build a high quality sniper rifle for a client who seems to know how to disassemble, reassemble and fire the product very quickly.  Despite this horribly obvious presence of foreshadowing, Jack continues to go about his day to day life in the quiet Italian villa that he is occupying.

Assassins lead the most predictably boring lives of all character types.

This, dear readers, is where the film completely loses any sense of purpose and relies on some broad visual metaphors that are almost stunning in their obviousness.  Too many scenes are spent lingering over George Clooney's stony face as he carefully crafts the gun, a feat that might be interesting had director Anton Corbijn bothered to cut just a few minutes out of scenes involving the guns construction.  As it stands, it feels as though I might be able to construct my own high powered rifle with the assistance of this film.

When he goes off into the villa he forges a friendship with a curious priest (Paolo Bonacelli) who seems to know what Jack is up to, and another more sensual relationship with a local prostitute.  The friendship with the priest is actually the best part of the film, because he seems aware of Jack's violent past and is acting on the "judge not" principle.  Because of this they have some intriguing conversations darting around the nature of Jack's work, and how any morality system could possibly come into play.

Significantly less interesting, and given more screen time unfortunately, are the myriad of sex scenes involving the prostitute Clara (Violante Placido).  She spends most of her screen time naked and in the throes of ecstasy (because, of course, assassins get killing training as well as sex training).  While this isn't particularly unappealing to me, it serves as a long obvious metaphor with a clear idea of what the relationship will do with Jack's character.

Jack does not have sex with this woman, but they will discuss butterflies in a cold way.

In case the audience misses the point about the transformative power of their sex, there are numerous shots of caterpillars and butterflies to cement the transition.  Or the myriad of conversations that Jack has about butterflies.  Or the gradual disillusionment with his task that was obviously setting in before he stopped in the charming villa and becomes all too obvious as he leaves.  Yes, this is an existential assassin movie all right, and only has one logical outcome that was clear from the opening frames.

None of this interested me in the slightest.  For it's curious subgenre, the movie is totally predictable and has absolutely nothing to say, even with those fun conversations with the priest.  Sometimes the style of a movie can be the substance, but that does not happen here.  What Anton Corbijn has done is craft a bit of flavorless cotton candy and that is disappointing.

But as much as my disappointment reigned supreme when the end credits finally came, they also arrived with the knowledge that Corbijn is a great director in need of a better project.  I admired his previous film Control (about the lead singer of the band Joy Division) and the restraint worked there.  But this movie takes it's time, way too much time, to no definably interesting purpose.  It's not lacking a sense of beauty, but I hope it remembers that should come with some kind of purpose next time.

The American (2010)
Directed by Anton Corbijn.
Screenplay by Rowan Joffe.
Starring George Clooney,  Violante Placido and Paolo Bonacelli.

Posted by Andrew

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