Anton Corbijn. USA. 2010.

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The American starring George Clooney is advertised as a Euro-style thriller, most likely because it is so slow paced that it simply could not be offered to the American public as a thriller or action flick, you know the ones in which we tolerate the story line in order to get to the next explosion, car chase, or special effect. Here we don't even have to worry about the story line because there simply isn't any (or at least not much of one). The film is directed by Anton Corbijn whose previous work Control about the life of Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the band Joy Division was, for me, an extremely moving experience.

Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, George Clooney is Jack (and later Ed), a professional assassin who goes about his work with the enthusiasm of a reanimated corpse. Jack is a mostly unsympathetic character - silent, secretive, and unsmiling whom we first meet in a snowy field in Sweden killing his presumed antagonists with no more emotion than in eating a Big Mac. We learn nothing about how he got to this point, where he is going, or what he thinks about either. The only thing we really do know about him is that he takes his orders from Pavel (Johan Leysen), a sleazy-looking man that you would not want to have over for dinner.

Jack is redirected to Italy by Pavel while he awaits his next assignment. Told to lose himself, Jack avails himself of a blue Fiat and travels to a village in the Abruzzo region, not far from Rome. Not trusting anyone, which seems to be de rigueur for a man in his profession, Jack moves to Castel del Monte where he avoids being shot at by some revengeful Swedes and takes up with Clara (Violante Placido), a local prostitute of remarkable grace and beauty, who calls him Mr. Butterfly because of the tattoo on his back. He also meets Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), a cliché-spouting priest who doesn't believe Jack's story that he is a landscape photographer and urges him to confess, but our reticent protagonist is not quite ready.

In another strange touch, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) comes to Jack asking him to build a high powered rifle for her to use (probably not in duck hunting). Becoming more and more fearful of everything and everyone, Jack simply wants to finish this last job and retire to some island with Clara whom he has developed a nice relationship (that doesn't include smiling or talking) but the fates and the movie's script's demands rule otherwise. While The American has some of the feeling of the great European classics of the 70s such as Melville's Le Samourai, its portrayal of a lonely, depressed assassin who is good with mechanics and prostitutes suddenly trying to find his humanity is singularly unconvincing.

I'm all for people developing a conscience but in the case of a hit man who early in the film murders a girl he slept with, it is a bit much. Though The American is thoughtful and well crafted and the acting is outstanding, it offers little to those who are looking for an escape from having one's senses assaulted by films showing violence as the best solution to our nagging problems. While Clooney's character wants out of his lifestyle, his motivation remains as unclear as the earlier motivation that fed his career choice. While I support European-style character studies with an appeal geared to adults rather than children, is it too much to ask for films in which violence is not a way of life? Now that would be truly grown up.


Howard Schumann

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