Star cast: George Clooney, Thekla Reuten, Violante Placido, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen, Irina Björklund
Plot: George Clooney, an assassin on the run from an unidentified group of Swedes, hides in a small Italian town. While he agrees to build a special gun for a woman, he falls in love with a prostitute and decides that this will be his last job. Things go wrong when George realises that leaving his profession won’t be very easy.
What’s Good: George Clooney’s superb acting; the expert camerawork which beautifully captures the small town of Castel del Montei in Italy.
What’s Bad: The exceedingly slow pace of the film; the vague script.
Verdict: The American is a good film, provided you have the patience to watch it. Commercial value for the Indian masses is zero.
Loo Break: Several. Many lengthy, albeit beautiful, scenes do not take the story ahead at all!
Jack (George Clooney) starts wondering if Mathilde and Clara are out to kill him.
Anton Corbijn’s The American is the story of an assassin, Jack (George Clooney), who is attacked by unidentified gunmen while holidaying in Sweden with his lover, Ingrid (Irina Björklund). Jack manages to kill both of the attackers but also mysteriously shoots Ingrid in the head. Then he flees to Rome where he contacts an associate named Pavel (Johan Leysen), who asks him to lie low in the small town in the mountains of Abruzzo in Italy. Suspicious, Jack throws away the cell phone given to him by Pavel and flees to another town. While hiding under the guise of Edward, the photographer, Jack befriends the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), who pressurises him to seek absolution for his sins. Spending his days in loneliness and the fear of being followed, Jack finally calls Pavel, who offers him another job. Jack meets a woman, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who wants him to build a gun with the firing capacity of a submachine gun and the accuracy of the rifle. Jack diligently begins work on the special weapon even as he begins patronising a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). Things start shaking up for Jack after another foiled attack on him by the Swedes. As he gets closer to completing the gun, Jack starts wondering if Mathilde and Clara are out to kill him. Who gets killed in the end? The latter part of the film and the climax explain the rest.
The American, based on the novel, A Very Private Gentleman, by Martin Booth, is a typical European film, relying more on the character’s intense experiences than the drama of the story. The screenplay (Rowan Joffe) proceeds at a leisurely pace, never in a hurry to tell the story. This gives the director, Anton Corbijn, the opportunity to focus on a visibly troubled and lonely Jack, who has a lot on his mind but won’t say anything to anyone. Apart from Jack’s occasional banter with the priest and his little conversations with Mathilde, there are hardly any dialogues in the film. What leaves the viewer stumped is the fact that the story explains very little – besides having a vague opening scene and climax, the audience is never told about Jack’s background. Why is he being pursued by the murderous Swedes? Why does Pavel want him dead? And why, despite having killed his former lover, does Jack get into an affair with Clara?
George Clooney excels in a restrained performance as the forlorn, yet murderous assassin.
Anton Corbijn’s direction is esoteric; he has made a film which will be liked only by a select audience. In an effort to make the audience ‘feel’ the story, he ends up making the protagonist’s daily chores as the recurring theme of the movie: lengthy shots of Jack having tea, or driving the car are abundant. He manages to maintain a certain curiosity in the viewer’s mind as to what will happen next and packs a surprise in the last few minutes of the film, but the slow pace and overall lack of drama make the film boring for the better part of the first half.
George Clooney excels in a restrained performance as the forlorn, yet murderous assassin. Thekla Reuten, as Mathilde, and Violante Placido, as Clara, sex up George Clooney’s life in just the right measure. Johan Leysen and Paolo Bonacelli provide able support.
Martin Ruhe’s cinematography is excellent. He does an excellent job of capturing the beauty of the small, hilly town of Castel del Montei in Italy. The director, Corbijn, who is himself a professional photographer, uses the ethereal beauty of the Italian countryside to depict the loneliness and paranoia of his protagonist. The spiralling staircases and hilly roads provide a good backdrop to a few fast-paced action sequences. The editing by Andrew Hulme is measured, but he could have cut a few scenes out. Herbert Grönemeyer’s background score provides good support to the visuals on screen.
All in all, The American is a good film for those who have the patience and appreciation for such kind of eccentric cinema. It will get very little appreciation at the Indian box-office.