The American

15 Sep

Title: The American
Year: 2010
Director: Anton Corbijn
Writer: Rowan Joffe, adapting from the novel by Martin Booth
Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli
MPAA Rating: R, violence, sexual content and nudity
Runtime: 105 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%

The overall reaction to The American has been pretty mild. The reviews, though far from negative, weren’t really amazing. And the commercial aspect was the same, it opened at number one, and it has already made more than its considerably cheap $20 million budget, but it’s been far from a smash hit, with a very considerable drop happening this past weekend on its second week in theaters. Not to mention its CinemaScore grade was a horrible D, which means that the general public didn’t love it, and which goes to explain the huge drop on its second weekend, something that usually doesn’t happen to films like this, which are aimed at a more adult audience that usually doesn’t rush to the theaters on opening weekend. I, however, kinda loved The American.

I loved it because it’s a different kind of spy thriller, and I loved it because it was shot gorgeously, and I loved it because it had George Clooney as the leading man, giving a beautifully restrained performance that made this film work really well for me, he just plays the perfect kind of weary in this one. He portrays the title character, a guy who is an expert at what he does, completely focussed on the task at hand but that, as many of these sort of heroes do in films, finds that love is the one emotion that he ultimatelycan’t turn off.

Mr. Clooney’s character works only because of Mr. Clooney, I’m not sure I would have liked it had an actor other than him had been in the role, mostly because I don’t believe other actors could have given as nuanced a performance as he did. Unless I remember incorrectly the exact occupation of our protagonist (you can call him Edward or Jack) is never revealed, but whatever it exactly is isn’t pretty, and whatever it is is something he’s damn good at. However, after a job goes wrong in Sweden, he goes into hiding in Italy, and vows, as we have heard many times in these films, that his next assignment will be his last. And so he is sent by Pavel, who I guess would be his “boss”, to meet this woman, Mathilde, who tells him about the specialized weapon she needs him to build for her. And so he does, and in between he meets a local Priest and a local whore, both of whom will influence him greatly.

The amazing thing about The American is how patient it is with itself. It doesn’t need the cheap tricks these sort of films usually employ to do what it wants, it just waits patiently, makes us watch Mr. Clooney go on through his character’s loneliness and slowly sets things into motion in a way that was, to me, absolutely wonderful.

The whole pace of this one is indeed a bit slow, that’s true, but it works because of Mr. Clooney’s performance and because Mr. Corbijn, the director, just lets this one unwind in a controlled fashion and makes it look gorgeous while doing so, much like he did with his directorial debut, the terrific Control back in 2007. Mr. Corbijn should take just as much credit as Mr. Clooney for this film, the shots in this film are quite perfect, making up for the lack of words in the dialogue with how much he can say with his camera. And it shows that he started out as a photographer, he knows what’s just simply beautiful, and he knows how calculated his composition of shots has to be. Because everything in this film is meticulously calculated, and I like that calculation, even though I can see how many people could have easily gotten tired of its slow-but-steady pacing at times.

I liked that pacing because it showed Mr. Clooney’s character at work, creating the weapon that was asked of him, and it showed with how much precision and dedication he went into every task at hand. Plus I think the pacing adds to the suspense part of it all, and the music too, which just rocks. The patience you have to put into it, and the gorgeous shots and effective score just create a wonderful mood for this sort of film.

Mr. Clooney as Jack or Edward or Mr. Butterfly (a nickname given to him) churns out an exquisite performance because we never really get to know exactly what he’s thinking. This is a character that doesn’t let us know much, and Mr. Clooney has given two of his greatest performances by playing guys that walk the walk and not really talk the talk, I’m talking about those in Michael Clayton and last year’s masterpiece, Up in the Air, however different these characters may be, they do share that common denominator that they are, at their core, guys that don’t really care much about talking as they do about just getting the job done.

The thing that keeps his character in The American from being as great, however, and by extension what keeps this film from reaching the tremendous heights those two did, is that those characters had some sort of backstory that made us connect to them, which in turn made the Clooney charm come out, which always amps everything up a notch or two. In this film we know so damn little about the essence of our character the Mr. Clooney’s essence isn’t allowed to shine through, and that’s never good.

Grade: B+

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