“The American” has a good aim but hits off target
Fans of George Clooney should be surprised by the flawed but still charismatic character he portrays on screen in his latest venture “The American.” Thin, graying and wearing the dread on his face to match the script’s tone, Clooney is Jack, a custom weapons expert who’s also a cold-blooded assassin. “The American” plays like a European specialty film-slow, sultry, beautifully shot and with an exquisite attention to detail. If you are into watching a skilled craftsman assemble a unique, highly specialized rifle cobbled together from spare parts out of mechanic’s garage, then this film hits your bulls-eye.
But in this genre, as the suspense mounts the audience’s patience should be grandly rewarded and “The American” doesn’t quite offer the payoff the limited audience interested in this type of film deserves.
Kudos to Clooney for picking another project that interests him more for the material itself than for what it can do for his celebrity. (See 2003’s remake of “Solaris.”) Shed no tears for Mr. Clooney; as usual he’s surrounded by stunning actresses. Clooney’s performance, like his character, is steadfast and subdued and makes for a fascinating, if somewhat chilly portrayal. We’re not given much information about his background, nor does the script (adapted by Rowan Joffe) provide much insight.
After narrowly escaping an ambush in a remote snow-covered Swedish retreat, Jack is sent by his mysterious contact (Johan Leysen) to a hilly, isolated Medieval Italian village.
There, a client (Thekla Reuten), the most beautiful customized-gun client in film history (TMBCGCIFH), needs Jack’s handiwork for a very special hit job. Jack also befriends a local prostitute, the most beautiful Italian prostitute in film history (TMBIPIFH). The lush scenery includes plenty of female nudity that feels abrupt and even exploitative considering the film’s resolutely somber tone, and the cold, detached nature of the characters.
There certainly is no need for more films about hit men and their targets. Yet the meticulous filmmaking on display in “The American” is a refreshing antidote to the glorified violence and high body counts of so many domestic films. Yet the film, perhaps by design, maintains a frigid distance from the audience by using clichéd dialogue and well-worn plot devices.
“The American” is a beguiling but only partly satisfying achievement for the “less is more” art house crowd.
Rated R violence, sexual content and nudity.