After a job in Sweden ends more harshly than expected for American hit man, Jack (George Clooney) retreats to the Italian countryside. He holes up in a small medieval town in the Abruzzo region. While there, Jack takes on an assignment for his contractor Pavel (Johan Leysen) to construct a special weapon for a mysterious contact, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). Jack accepts the friendship of local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and pursues a torrid liaison with the beautiful Clara (Violante Placido) - first for cash, but later for real love.
Review by Louise Keller:
An assassin, a priest and a prostitute play pivotal roles in this gripping thriller where labels are paradoxical and nothing is black or white. While we grapples with issues of morality and conscience, enveloped in a world in which there are myriads of shades of grey, most of the film takes place in a picturesque, medieval Italian village built into the mountainside. Adapted from Martin Booth's novel A Very Private Gentleman, director Anton Corbijn manages to create a bottle neck of tension from his less-is-more approach and a tangible intensity of mood. And charismatic George Clooney as the American of the title brings a contained performance of great stillness and nuance. But be warned. This is not a thriller in which action takes prevalence or where bullets fly throughout.
After an attention grabbing opening set in a remote and breathtakingly beautiful location in wintry Sweden, where thick snow clings to the roof top and fir trees, Clooney's assassin Jack is told to head to the rustic village of Castel Del Monte to 'lay low' as he waits for his next instructions. The storyline unfolds cinematically with little dialogue or explanation. We are intrigued by the chance relationships he makes, despite his intention to avoid making friends. His connection with Paolo Bonacelli's memorable Father Benedetto is grounded in truth as the elderly priest ironically searches for his own salvation by saving sinners, while the development of Jack's professional relationship with stunning Violante Placido's idealistic prostitute Clara evolves in a credible way. Dutch actress Thekla Reuten intrigues as Mathilde, the hard-nosed client for whom Jack prepares a picnic with surprises and the world-weary face of Johan Leysen makes its own impact as the man calling the shots.
Much of the action is internal as Jack passes the days doing daily exercises, having a solitary coffee and using his skills as a craftsman to design and execute a made-to-order weapon for his commission. But tension is always there and he is constantly looking over his shoulder, wary of an unexpected bullet from an unknown assailant. There are twists and revelations, but everything is subtly portrayed. For some, the fact that little is explained may frustrate; for others it is fresh and intriguing. The resolution however raises some niggly unanswered questions and counters in part the pleasures experienced during the film's journey. Production values are superb, as is the understated score which is constant throughout.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The poster and key art promoting The American would have you believe it is a James Bond-ish thriller, with George Clooney in the foreground in a black suit with white shirt open at the neck, clutching a hand gun in his right hand, an expression of determination on his face. The background in soft focus is a female face; absolutely classic imagery for a thriller with a strong hero about to save the world.
But a typical Bond-ish thriller is not what photographer turned film director Anton Corbijn (who did a great job of Control , the story of Ian Curtis of the rock band Joy Division) has delivered. This is important because there is nothing more destructive of a movie's commercial success than false expectations.
Corbijn has clearly embraced what book reviewers identify as the novel's focus on the secretive character of Jack, George Clooney in brooding form, making the film a moody, melancholy work of not so much action thrills but introspection - great in a novel, difficult to manage in the screen thriller. Worse, the story simply doesn't make sense - especially the ending.
There are too many mysterious figures attempting to do things for reasons we don't know to give the audience a sense of why Jack does what he does (in story terms). In particular, the lived-in face of Johan Leysen pops up as Pavel, to instruct Jack what to do and where to go.
It may not matter too much that we have no idea who he is, it matters that he ends up in a situation that defies explanation at the end of the movie. It adds to the sense of having watched a film without any other purpose than to photograph some rustic locations as the backdrop to mysterious activity.
Corbijn spends a lot of screen time showing inordinate amounts of detail as Jack makes and machines various mechanical items which he fashions into the precisely specified sniper rifle. More focus on it as Jack tests it with Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) who has ordered it. There is an irony to this in the film's penultimate scenes, but since those scenes are riddled with problems, the effort is rather negated.
The positives include a sensual sex scene between Clooney's Jack and the impressive Violante Placido's Clara, as the build up of their romantic relationship takes dramatic centre stage, and a terrific opening sequence in snowy Sweden, but the balance sheet is weighed down by the negative returns on what everyone is supposed to be doing. The mood is well maintained, and the film encourages us to read the book.
But I don't know what the author Martin Booth thinks of the way his novel, A Very Private Gentleman, has been adapted for the screen, but my guess is that he is probably rolling his eyes in heaven (he died in 2004). br>
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AMERICAN, THE (MA)
CAST: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Johan Leysen, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Irina Björklund
PRODUCER: George Clooney, Anne Carey, Jill Green, Grant Heslov, Ann Wingate
DIRECTOR: Anton Corbijn
SCRIPT: Rowan Joffe (novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Martin Ruha
EDITOR: Andrew Hulme
MUSIC: Herbert Grönemeyer
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Mark Digby
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 11, 2010