Friday, April 15, 2011

The American

Directed by Anton Corbijn.
2010. Rated R 105 minutes.
George Clooney
Paolo Bonacelli
Violante Placido
Johan Leysen
Irina Björklund
Filippo Timi

Hitman/weaponeer Jack, or Edward (Clooney, the character goes by both), is on the run from “The Swedes” and contemplating a career change. His boss Pavel (Leysen) moves him to a small, remote Italian village while things are either smoothed over, or another job arises. He merely has to lay low and not make any “friends.” Not finding the town to his liking, he actually relocates to another small town. Laying low seems easy, at first. He has serious trouble with not making friends. First, there’s Father Benedetto (Boncelli), who takes a shine to him. Additionally, our hero has cast his own shine upon Clara (Placido), the prostitute he’s getting way too close to. Meanwhile, the next job comes. He’s tasked to build a special weapon for a hit someone else will make.

We spend day after day with Edward, learning his idiosyncracies and understanding his loneliness. Most of all, we feel his paranoia. We don’t mind that he sleeps with a gun. In fact, we’re glad he does. We realize there’s a serious possibility of danger around every corner and in every dark place or hiding behind every obstruction. The movie achieves this mostly through tension, only occasionally resorting to action. Tension sticks with us, appearing in a number of different guises. Sometimes it carries the threat of death, other times it doesn’t. When it does give us action, there are no Bourne style superhuman feats and no extended shootouts where hundreds of rounds are fired. Our action comes in short bursts of violence. If you’re looking for tons of car-chases, fist-fights, gun battles and explosions, look elsewhere. This might bore you to death. In my opinion, the reason this movie doesn’t get its just due is because we were led to believe it was packed full of these things. People went in expecting eye candy and other than Clara’s frequently naked body, they got food for thought. The lack of visual thrills fosters the belief this is a real guy in the real world, albeit a clandestine segment of it, but certainly more real than most other movies based on hitmen.

Another thing that helps us suspend belief is the lack of humor. This is no clever dark comedy like the similarly themed In Bruges. That is a great movie, but its over the top antics make it feel like an artistic interpretation of a bad situation. The American feels like it has been ripped from some poor slug’s life. Clooney is the perfect vessel to channel this guy’s angst. He just looks so worn and antsy, we get the idea that any types of jokes are lost on him. He can only think of what he wants to do next and what may actually happen next. Both scenarios scare the hell out of him.

All of this leads to a finale we sort of know is coming, but hope is not. Even worse for our emotions, its so close to not happening we can’t stand it. What could be teases us with how close it is, yet how far away it must have really been.

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