George Clooney as Jack / Edward
Violante Placido as Clara
Thekla Reuten as Mathilde
Paolo Bonacelli as Father Benedetto
Anna Foglietta as Anna
Irina Björklund as Ingrid
Filippo Timi as Fabio
Lars Hjelm as Hunter #1
Johan Leysen as Pavel
Giorgio Gobbi as Man on Vespa
Guido Palliggiano as Waiter (Market)
Ilaria Cramerotti as Hooker #2
Angelica Novak as Hooker #3
Isabelle Adriani as Hooker #1
Sandro Dori as Waiter (Locanda Grapelli)
Directed by Anton Corbijn
After an assignment in Sweden goes horribly wrong, an assassin named Jack (George Clooney) hides away in the Italian mountainside town of Abruzzo, told by his boss to keep to himself and lay low, while also helping a female assassin (Thekla Reuten) with her own assignment by building her a specialized weapon. Unfortunately, Jack ignores his boss’ wishes and ends up having a tryst with a local prostitute (Violante Placido), which gets more serious.
The idea of George Clooney playing a (mostly) silent assassin holed up in the Italian countryside with gorgeous European women sounds like recipe for a solid dramatic experience, so why Focus Features is marketing “The American” as some sort of action thriller when in fact it’s an arty European film, will throw some moviegoers off and just outright anger others. It’s a movie that has more in common with the recent Tilda Swinton vehicle “I Am Love” than it has with any other movie about assassins.
The premise of a hitman hiding in a scenic village makes it hard not to think of this as “In Bruges” devoid of any sense of humor. The movie’s almost painstakingly quiet punctuated by the most minimal of dialogue, establishing a pace not unlike Clooney’s previous tour de force “Michael Clayton” only without the sharp Tony Gilroy dialogue and original premise that made that movie so unmistakably its own thing. By comparison, the chattiest scenes in this are between Jack and the local preacher, who tries his best to offer some levity to Clooney’s consistently grim and dour demeanor.
The opening sequence does a good job establishing that tone as Clooney’s protagonist of sorts, Jack, has his latest assignment go horribly wrong when his identity is compromised and he has to take out two hitmen in the Swedish countryside, as well as the woman he’d been bedding. His boss sends him to Italy to get a bit of rest and relaxation and lay low, but he’s soon called upon to build a very specific weapon for a female assassin. In his downtime, Jack (now going by “Edward”) has a tryst with a local prostitute named Carla, which starts to get more serious the more time he spends with her.
An acclaimed photographer with one of the sharpest eyes for an unforgettable shot, Anton Corbijn proved his worth as a filmmaker with the Ian Curtis biopic “Control.” He approaches this material in a similar way, always going for the most beautiful and picturesque shots rather than going for ones that will move the story forward, and the results are literally like thumbing through a photo album of beautiful pictures without much of a connection from one page to the next.
Clooney’s presence and the little bits of English are the only things that set Corbijn’s film apart from the clear influences of Italian masters like Fellini and Antonioni in just about every frame. Unfortunately, Corbijn falls into the trap of those filmmakers’ predilection for pretentious visual wank-fodder taking preference over telling a coherent story.
As hard as it may be to trash a movie that looks so glorious, an unavoidable conflict has been created, because “The American” is clearly intended as an art film and it works perfectly fine as that, but it fails on so many levels in terms of telling an interesting story. Most of that is due to the random disjointed scenes used to introduce Clooney’s character into his new setting. We get one scene of Clooney working out–women should be able to enjoy that–then he’s eating something in a café, having an encounter with a local prostitute–guys should enjoy Violante Placido in various states of undress–then working on constructing a gun. Most of these scenes go by so quickly that many of them feel unnecessary. An actual chase sequence involving Jack trying to avoid an assassin trying to clean up loose ends from earlier seems so out of place midway through the movie amidst all the scenic travelogue visuals and minimalist conversations. On the other hand, the scenes between Clooney and Thekla Reuten as they’re planning her mission work far better towards setting up the story’s conclusion.
It’s only in the last fifteen minutes are when things finally pick up and all the bits start coming together, but it never feels like the so-called “suspense” that’s been building–and we’re being charitable by suggesting that it has–leads to anything particularly exciting or shocking. In fact, the movie ends up pretty much where you’d expect it to, especially if you’ve seen “The Bourne Identity” or “The International,” both far better incarnations of the same genre.
There’s no denying that when George Clooney wants to be an “artist,” he’s more than capable of making some lovely art films, and that’s clearly the case here, but there’s no valid reason why he should spend his money producing a painstakingly slow travelogue set in the Italian countryside like this and allow it to be disguised as some sort of “thriller.”
With all deference to Martin Booth, author of the novel “A Very Private Gentleman” on which this is based, some books work better as movies than others and maybe his book wasn’t meant to be turned into THIS movie.
The Bottom Line:
Corbijn’s sophomore effort is gorgeously shot with plenty of beautiful scenery to gush over, but otherwise, the results are mostly dull and disjointed, more “boredom-inducing” than “Bourne.”