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WGUC Reviews

The American

The American
Focus Features
Rated R
Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas


I have good news, and I have bad news. The good news is if you eagerly await each new film from favorite local son George Clooney, The American hits theatre screens this week, and Clooney gives probably the best performance of his career so far. The bad news is if you are expecting a fast-paced action thriller in the vein of the Bourne series, you are likely to be disappointed.

The American is essentially a foreign film, which happens to have a big American star. Other than Clooney, everything about it is reminiscent of a foreign film. It was shot primarily in Italy, near Clooney’s home. The supporting cast is mostly Italian. Some of the sparse dialogue is subtitled. And it has the pace, style and sensibilities of an Italian film. And for me, those are enough reasons to really like this film a lot.

Clooney plays an assassin, who is also a master gunsmith, nearing the end of his career. Things haven’t been going well for him, and there are factions that would like for him to retire… permanently. After a failed ambush in Sweden, Clooney journeys to Rome to connect with the person who handles his assignments. He’s trying to find out why he’s being hunted, and by whom. He is told to wait in a small town in Italy and wait for instructions. In the interim, Clooney accepts a job to make a very specialized rifle for a client.

Clooney manages to bring us into the life of his shadowy figure without the use of lots of dialogue. He has to do most of his acting with his face, eyes, and body language. He stalks the streets like a paranoid cat, always looking over his shoulder, never knowing who’s coming after him next. He sleeps fitfully, trusts no one, and knows better about getting involved with anyone. It’s a solitary, nerve-wracking existence.

The cast of unknowns is perfect. They have great faces. An actor with a grizzled face and voice to match plays Clooney’s handler. There’s an old priest who befriends him, and who also has his share of secrets, and things to confess. And since you know he’s bound to violate the rule of “no involvement,” Clooney becomes smitten with an attractive prostitute. All of these, and the other supporting roles, are handled to perfection by the European cast.

Director Anton Corbijn, who cut his cinematic teeth on music videos, handles the material with great care. There are long, languid vistas of the countryside, which break up the deliberate pacing of the story with some beautiful cinematography and scenery. A most interesting series of scenes has Clooney acquiring the tools and materials he needs for the rifle to be constructed, and the care and craftsmanship that goes into this gun.

I have always been a sucker for films about international intrigue with picture postcard backgrounds, like the first Bourne film with Matt Damon. The American takes this style one step further by removing any glamorous elements from this profession, and showing it for the nasty business it really is. As I was watching the film, it was easy to picture it as being made in the mid-1960s with Marcello Mastroianni or Alain Delon, and that’s a huge compliment.

Just remember to park any pre-conceived notions on the curb, and enjoy The American for the sparse, terse masterpiece that it is.

The R-rated The American is now showing just about everywhere.


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