Friday, September 3, 2010


Stars: George Clooney, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Johan Leysen

Director: Anton Corbijn

Genre: Thriller

Not your normal Hollywood fare, The American grabs hold of you with one of the most startling opening scenes you're ever likely to see. And then the movie becomes brooding and introspective, but we've been put on notice of the kind of thing that can--and will be expected--to happen again. We're just waiting to see who, how, what, when and where.

George Clooney is Jack, a hired assassin. We don't know who he's working for, other than the weathered dude (Johan Leysen) who gives him instructions over the phone. Other assassins are after him, trying to knock him off before he can knock them off--kinda like the old Mad Magazine's Spy Vs Spy. We don't know who they're working for either...CIA? KGB? Or just some murderous SOB? This uncertainty has the effect of bringing all events into the immediacy of the NOW--which is where, ideally, life should be lived anyway. Every small thing that happens is magnified in significance, and with all those shadowy folks out gunning for him, Jack is naturally a little paranoid. So just sitting down for a cup of coffee with someone has him second guessing himself--as well as the person he's with--his finger constantly poised upon the trigger.

After the opening incident, which occurs in the snowy white Swedish countryside, Jack is instructed to hole up in a small Italian village. There, he is to deliver a custom made weapon to a mysterious female hit woman named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). We don't know who she'll be targeting, but it's going to make a big splash in the newspapers.

Jack is befriended by a local priest, Father Benedetto, (Paolo Bonacelli) who senses that the American is up to something, and talks to him about sin. But the hired gunman is a cold, hard customer...until he gets involved with a beautiful prostitute named Clara, (Violante Placido) who wants to have more than a business relationship with him. (After all--it IS George Clooney!) Jack discovers that his conscience--deeply buried--is still alive in there somewhere, and decides he wants to get out of the killing game and start a normal life with Clara. BUT--with the kind of karma he has incurred for himself, will it be too late?

The American has a traditional plot, but refreshingly so. You don't need a scorecard to follow it, like a lot of thrillers these days (Inception, for example) that leave you scratching your head, wondering if they made it so complicated because they wanted you to come back and pony up your money a second or third time, just to try to figure it out.

The scenery is pleasant to the eye--not the least of which is the oft-naked Violante Placido as Jack's love interest.

If you're the type of moviegoer who needs to have everything spelled out at the end with a neat little bow on top, you'll be displeased. But if you can take the larger view and grasp that The American is about "sin" on a universal scale--and that all those tidy little details would be superfluous, I think you'll come away satisfied.

And if you're the ruthless sort yourself--not an assassin, but a business person, let's say--who tries to screw your customers by running TV commercials with a lot of unreadable fine print at the bottom of the screen that contradicts everything that's coming out of your mouth--you may find yourself reassessing your skulduggery, and developing perhaps a tiny speck of conscience, after viewing this film.