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Before anybody reading this review goes to see "The American," let me
give you some sincere advice. If you are expecting this to be another
Jason Bourne or James Bond-style of movie with elaborate action
sequences, tight pacing, and ear-throbbing music...you had better stay
away, for you will be sorely disappointed. The advertising campaign and
production photographs gives one the impression that George Clooney is
taking on a role in a movie like Liam Neeson did in that marvelously
powerful thriller "Taken" released in 2008. But that is not the case.
"The American" is shot on a foreign location, features a lot of foreign
dialect, and was made by a Dutch director with a mostly Italian cast.
In other words, it's not really an American action production. It's an
Italian melodrama and a really fascinating one at that.
Lots of questions are raised and very few of them are given answers (detailed ones, at least) in this incredibly affecting thriller. We know and find out very little about our protagonist (George Clooney) who goes by two names: Jack and Edward. All we know is that he's a trained killer, somebody wants him to manufacture a special rifle for an assassination, and that's about it. We don't find out who exactly he works for, and we really don't need to. Clooney is an American sent into an Italian town for a last assignment. While he is waiting for the right time, Clooney tries to avoid being shot at by assassins, and begins a relationship with a prostitute (Violante Placido) which slowly transforms from lust to love.
This is not really an action picture and to a certain extent, it's not even really a thriller. "The American" is a transfixing character study. We learn not about the George Clooney character's history, but his integrity as a human being, which it not very much. Director Anton Corbijn frequently has Clooney in a one-note personality and sets up his cameras at a combination of close-ups and medium shots that remain static as he performs rather mundane tasks as he waits for his assignment to come through. One would assume that this would produce tedium and boredom and for some people, it will be just that. But for me, and those who really get involved, this is rather fascinating and it doesn't drag on for very long at all.
However, the best scenes in the movie revolve around the relationship between George Clooney and Violante Placido, who is effective and charismatic as the prostitute who falls in love with him. The director sets up earlier scenes of them having sex and then later changes the direction to show them not as a pair of sex-starved individuals looking for a way to kill a boring night, but as two human beings who care for each other. At first, I was questioning the point of the Placido character and I was griping, as I usually do, about the sex scenes and how they seem, as usual, to have no purpose. But now in hindsight, I commend the filmmakers for their choice. The sex scenes, for once, are appropriate because they show how the relationship between these two characters evolves from lecherousness to a pure and affectionate love.
Director Anton Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe have done a superb job at crafting their nostalgia-stirring opus. The movie's misc en scene and lighting is absolutely wonderful. The film is great to look at as well as experience. There are some marvelous and more importantly, creative landscape and interior shots and it's almost a treat that the camera is frequently locked-down so we can admire these moments.
In regards to the performances, they are solid. George Clooney proves his worth as an actor yet again with his portrayal of this tormented, cynical man of few words. Violante Placido is also very effective as the girl. Thekla Reuton is icy and more than scenic in her performance as the in-between person working with Clooney. Paolo Bonacelli is compelling as the priest whom Clooney befriends, and Johan Leysen is chilling in his moments as the mysterious individual who always answer his phone with a gruff "Yeah?" "The American" is one of the best movies of the year. However, I cannot guarantee that many people will agree with my statement. First of all, because a lot going in will be misled that this is a high-tensity action picture like "The Bourne Identity" and when they find out it's not, they will leave the theater feeling vastly empty. So that's why I am giving you warning. Don't go in with that attitude. Go in with expectations for a fascinating, nostalgia-stirring character study and be especially keen as you watch the relationship between Clooney and Placindo transform. And believe me: scenes that seem pointless at first will seem ideal when you look back on it in hindsight.
As an action thriller, I'd give this film maybe a 2/10. But that is not
what it was intended to be. The ads and marketing of the film falsely
suggest this is an action film, and that is a great disservice both to
the film and to the audience. I suspect that the film's rating would be
higher had the marketing been honest. It is almost the opposite of
action: it's a quiet, introspective film. I didn't expect a thriller
and so I wasn't disappointed.
As usual in this kind of film, there is not a lot of backstory. We never find out exactly where Jack came from, how he found his job, why he could take such a job, etc. But that's not really the point. We never really find out much about the back story on the other characters, either. I think we actually found out more about the priest.
I enjoyed the film in about the same way I would enjoy a short story, which focuses on a few points rather than furnishing a history and full explanation.
The cinematography is breath taking, but with top photographer Anton Corbijn at the helm, you wouldn't expect anything less. There's very little dialogue in this film, about 500 lines in total, which emphasizes the acting and the visual spectacle. Don't expect any CGI or amazing action scenes. It's just not that kind of film. It's a homage to C'era una volta il West by Sergio Leone, to The Day of the Jackal (the original!) by Fred Zinnemann and writer Frederick Forsyth, to Italy and in a way to Clooney. The deliberate slow pace will put a lot of people off. The movie is about professionalism, betrayal, loneliness, revenge and love. How good "bad" people can be. A wonderful film, that will not be valued by the average Hollywood loving movie goers, but a must see for people who love movies and for whom movie-making is an art.
The first thing some people (though not all) coming out of The American
may say is "It's... slow." They may be missing the idea behind the
film. It's not about making an action-packed thriller (one critic
putting the cheesy pun "Less Jason Bourne and more Jason Boring" is
foolish to make that comparison), and if you need that this particular
weekend of Labor Day then Robert Rodriguez's Machete should suffice
with that. This is a film with a European sensibility- it even has the
director Anton Corbijn from the Netherlands- and is more about the
internal conflict and his mechanical, cold nature than anything to do
with a straightforward plot. The American is never confusing, and only
for those who are looking for something with a huge shot of adrenaline
(which, to be fair, the trailer doesn't do a good job of setting up)
will feel let down or bored. It's a work that asks to adjust your
expectations for a dramatic thriller. To give a much more apt
comparison, it's like Jean-Pierre Melville taking a crack at Jarmusch's
the Limits of Control. Yeah, that's more like it.
Another thing that makes Corbijn's work so appealing is his star, who is really George Clooney the "actor" this time. It's startling to consider, though sometimes easy to forget, how much range Clooney actually has. In some roles he does go by on his movie-star charm (Ocean's movies) or sometimes plays with that image (Up in the Air) or is just plain goofy (work with the Coen brothers). A performance like this is more in line with Michael Clayton, and it is one of his most memorable. He comes in doing a kind of Alain Delon impersonation (again, Melville comes to mind with his often leading figure), and his Jack character is a smooth operator, a killer who is only cold-blooded due to years of detachment and people around him that he becomes 'friends' with getting killed. The basic set-up is that he's in Italy lying low after a snafu in Sweden, and is given a job to put together a gun for an assassin. Along the way he meets a prostitute and the two become close. Maybe too close.
There is predictability in the narrative, but that's not what Corbijn and Clooney are going for. Anyone can take the old 'one last job' or 'don't fall in love or get close' kind of thing. In fact just two years ago, on this precise weekend, one saw a lackluster action-packed equivalent, Bangkok Dangerous, come out with just a similar thing. Corbjin, taking from a screenplay based on the book by Martin Booth (formerly called A Very Private Gentleman aptly enough), makes this about a man who has had his life chipped away bit by bit from this line of work. He doesn't always kill, but he can, or he is professionally able to get other people to kill. One of the key things to look for is how Clooney acts, calmly and assuredly, and how simply Corbjin films him, as Jack puts together the gun and assembles the pieces. It's like a well-oiled, impersonal machine. The question becomes: how human can this man be, can he connect with someone else?
These are questions that don't usually fly in Hollywood fare, certainly not even in other big Clooney-vehicle spectacles like the Oceans movies. The amount of restraint is remarkable, but how Corbjin keeps things eerily peaceful and leisurely paces is what's really incredible. Some have also compared it to 70's crime thrillers, and that's not unfounded. The action that does come out- and there are, to be fair, a few decent sequences of chasing, dodging and bullets flying without a change of film speed- comes out of the suspense, and the suspense comes out of paranoia. Clooney always has to look over his shoulder, and has to second guess everything he does. His conniving boss thinks that he's growing soft, but Jack knows better, or should. Even around his usually very naked and beautiful prostitute girlfriend, played by Violante Placido, he has to have a gun at the ready when he sees he has one. Can he trust her? Can we?
Again, I have to stress how this is the George Clooney show along with the director's. If you find him to be an underrated actor, this is a feast of interesting, understated moments. Whether or not he's handsome or dreamy or whatever he is to women (and/or men) should be irrelevant to how he acts in the movie. But the movie star quality also carries over to a point. When he wants to be, Clooney can be so compelling with barely an eye moment, just a gesture, or a little inflection to his persona. You need a presence like him, among various character actors both pretty (i.e. Mathilde) and more sinister looking (Swedish villains) or more friendly but portly (the village priest), and he does. I would see the film again just for Clooney and how he drew me in with the believability of the resolve and sorrow in his character.
Another hard sell this season - an art film in the guise of Hollywood Euro-thriller fare in strikingly gorgeous locales shot by that guy who did music videos for Depeche Mode - but it holds a lot of rewards for the patient and willing.
This is not a movie that will appeal to everyone, even fans of George
Clooney, who is in almost every scene. His famous smile and immense
charm are totally absent in a tight, laconic role as the eponymous
assassin-cum-gunsmith Jack/Edward/Mr Butterfly. But I really admired
this brave departure from the Hollywood dazzle which has a genuinely
different pacing plus look and sound.
So if you're expecting a fast-moving, action-packed thriller, forget it. After a dramatic pre-title sequence, there is more than an hour of a quiet, slow build up to the retributive finale. The assassin is determined to do one last job before giving up his nefarious profession, but two women are complicating his intentions: fellow shootist Mathilde, played icily by the Dutch Thekla Reuten, and a local prostitute Clara, the beautiful Italian actress Violante Placido. Which woman will get her man? This is a visually striking work, partly because of the unusual setting in the arid terrain of the Abruzzo region of central Italy and the narrow, cobbled streets of the town of Castel del Monte, partly because of the artistry of Dutch photographer turned director Anton Corbijn and his German cinematographer Martin Ruhe. The sparse script is the work of Rowan Joffe (son of the director Roland Joffe) who has adapted the novel "A Very Private Gentleman" by the British novelist Martin Booth.
Clooney is a great lover of all things Italian and this film - which he co-produced - is obviously a very personal work which is likely to be more enjoyed in Europe than in the States.
The publicity from The American suggests it is an action and adventure
film, when it is in fact a melancholic and deep drama.I liked The
American very much, but I perfectly understand why its slow rhythm and
calm narrative would make it inaccessible to those people who expect to
see shootouts and explosions.And that is not a problem from the film or
from the people, but from the distributors, who did not know how to
sell this movie.
The American is developed parsimoniously, dividing its time in the methodic way in which the main character constructs a rifle; the flourishing romance among two people who are hungry of affection; and the occasional moments of suspense.Oh, and we also have conversations between the main character and a priest, which contribute to reveal the psychology from the first one mentioned.And all that is framed by the perfect Italian locations, which are full of atmosphere and detail, but without becoming into the idealized brochures from advertising agencies we have seen in movies which were also set in that country (such as Letters to Juliet and Under the Tuscan Sun).I would have said that is an unusual style for director Anton Corbjin, who made many video-clips of Metallica, U2 and Depeche Mode...if he had not already shown his firm hand and measured vision in the excellent film Control.
In order to make a relaxed narrative like the one from The American to work, we need a good actor in the leading role, so that we can perceive the thoughts from the main character in an almost intuitive way.Fortunately, George Clooney is one of those actors, and his brilliant performance in The American is one of the best attributes from this movie.The rest of the cast also made a good work, highlighting Violante Placido, Johan Leysen and Thekla Reuten.
The brief sequences from The American which could be considered as "action" look almost anti-climatic...like an interruption in the paused routine from the main character.And this is one of the few movies in which the romance is not used as a forced ornament, but as an integral part from the screenplay.The only negative element from The American is that there are a few scenes which feel out of context.However, that minor fail did not avoid me from having a fascinating time with The American, which I very enthusiastically recommend with the warning that you do not have to expect shootouts and explosions.
"And above all, don't make any friends, Jack. You used to know that."
First, a warning. The American is an atypical spy-thriller. If you're wanting to check out an adrenaline-fueled action film, you should check out Salt. The American is a slow- burner, and more of a character study than anything else.
The main character Jack is an assassin and weapons maker who at his heart, is a lonely man. His last engagement was marred by an incident where he had to kill the woman he was involved with, and he's forced to move on to a small town in Italy where he's given another assignment and told to wait. But he finds himself drawn again to another woman, and that complication may turn his employer against him.
Clooney gives a great understated performance as the quiet, complex Jack, and he's joined by a pair of excellent, beautiful female leads in Violante Placido and Thekla Reuten. Their beauty is matched by the beauty of the small Italian towns and countryside where the majority of the movie takes place. The sedate pace of the film gives you time to absorb the mood of the setting, as well as understand the effect it has on Jack.
The American will definitely not appeal to everyone. There are two or three effective action scenes, but at no point is that kind of thing the focus of the movie. Imagine the tone of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, and you won't be far off the mark.
George Clooney outdid himself in this movie! I really did not know what
to expect. I kind of knew what it was about, but decided that I will
let it surprise me.
This movie is a low key follow the movie and its steps. You keep guessing and keep wondering what will happen next. You wonder who is behind it all. Of course you can guess what will happen, at least if you watched enough movies you can make an intelligent guess.
But what gets me with this movie is that even though I see things coming I still want to watch what happens. This movie just grips you and spits you out. It is not a blockbuster shoot them up type of movie. No this is more like the old style Italian Mafia movies.
If you decide to watch this movie make sure you have time to focus. Its the little details, the little steps that make all the difference. Otherwise it just becomes another movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Here we go again, another group of self proclaimed "intellectuals" see a movie they don't understand and call it Brilliant! Give me a break; this is without a doubt one of the most "BORING" movies of all time. Just as a reality check, I'll explain the movie. Clooney failed miserably at trying to make a artsy European thriller. While all the acting was good, most of the movie drags on horribly, and is full of holes. The only good part was the first 5-minutes and if Clooney was shot in that sequence, ending the movie, then I would have left the theater more satisfied. As far as the plot, well lets start with Clooney making a weapon with "the capacity of a sub-machine gun but the range of a rifle" - it's called an M14 and has been around since the 1960s. In fact when Clooney finished building the gun I turned to my wife (who fell asleep a few times during the movie) and said "congratulations you just built and M14 with a retractable stock." Later in the movie he admits to the shooter that the gun is a modified M14. So why would a covert operation need a gunsmith to build a specialized gun in a remote part of Italy when the gun can be purchased off the rack and modified with a retractable stock in someone's basement? Or better yet, instead of modifying a classic M14 (with the wooden forearm) just purchase a modern day KART M14 EBR Airsoft Sniper Rifle, which has the retractable stock as standard equipment. You would think these "covert professionals" would know this, and the studio would have done their research to make the plot as realistic as possible. Then having to fit the M14 in a large Samsonite briefcase so the female shooter can carry it without raising suspicion. When was the last time you saw a female executive carry a large, black,Samsonite briefcase? I don't know about anyone else, but having some background in surveillance this would have made the shooter stick out like a sore thumb. If I spec'd this operation (assuming it wasn't a long distance shoot, which is wasn't when she tried to shoot Clooney) I would have gone with a Heckler & Koch MP5 with the optional scope, which could have easily fit into a woman's portfolio case. Let's not forget the CGI butterflies,which made me think I was watching Avatar for a brief moment. Of course I'm just picking at technicalities, which have nothing to do with why this movie failed so miserably at providing entertainment value. Lately the movie studios have been cracking down on people that download movies. Maybe people wouldn't be downloading these movies if they got their money's worth when they pay $28 to see garbage like the American.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Scenery in movie is beautiful, Clara's boobs and Clooney's back/ push
ups are fine, but there is no real content.
Who is Clooney's character? Good mechanic, either with cars or with guns, good marksman. Something more? No information at all.
Where is he from? America. How old is he? Unknown. Has he been married? Unknown. Where he learned his skills? Unknown. Who are his customers? Unknown. Who wants to kill him? Guys from Sweden. Why? Unknown. Who is Pavel? Unknown. Why Pavel wants to kill him? Unknown.
What you can see in this movie besides nice boobs and male back? Not much. Man who is supposedly former assassin who wants to retire, but there is nowhere to run, and nobody to trust. Does that sound real? So - so. Material for 95 minutes movie? Can be. Laid out in this way so viewers have no information about anything? Definitely not.
If story have been laid out a bit different, so we could learn something, anything about Jack/Edward/Clooney, and empathize with him. That would take 5 minutes, one dialogue at most, and without that explanation result is crap. This movie is like Marcel Proust meets the James Bond, but we do not know anything about what Proust is thinking about, and James Bond is almost broken guy who do not know what he wants. Clooney in this movies is like Coca Cola without bubbles, known brand who made such lousy product so you are sorry you lost 95 minutes watching.
This review is already longer than "The American" script, "sapienti sat".
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