"The American" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

1/04/2011 Posted by Admin

"The American"

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

Directed by Anton Corbijn, written by Rowan Joffe, 155 minutes, rated R.

By Christopher Smith

If ever there was a film that featured a title loaded with irony, it's Anton Corbijn's "The American."

The film stars one of America's most popular leading men--George Clooney--but everything else about the movie eschews what it means to be an American thriller now. The film opens briefly in Sweden and then, for the rest of the movie, we're in the hills of Italy. Beyond Clooney and his character, there otherwise is no connection to anything American in “The American.”

This is a movie made with a European sensibility--the focus is on character and story (and a believable story, at that), not on explosions, bravado and dialogue so crippled by cliches, you either want to cover your ears or throw grease at the screen.

As such, American audiences either will love this movie for its intelligence, authority and restraint, or they will hate it because it refuses to come through with a more muscular form of entertainment.

Here is a movie that thrives in the absence of a score (some music accompanies the movie, but only a trace). Many will argue that it's too slow and self-indulgent. Others will long for something to go "boom!' while Corbijn takes his time building a quiet sense of dread and suspense.

I loved this movie. I loved it for giving the finger to what so many American thrillers have become. Instead of coming off an assembly line, here is a thriller that's fresh and different, focused and smart, and so because of this, it's no wonder it made only $13 million during its opening weekend at the box office. When it opened in summer, how could it stand a chance in the absence of serious gunfire, nuclear warfare and some pumped-up muscle-head here to save the world?

Sorry to rail against such fare, but given that so much of our culture is dumbed down to the point of incompetence, it's sad knowing that this movie's poor showing at the box office likely will make it difficult for other films of similar ilk to make their way onto the big screen. In its place will be the next Adam Sandler movie. And we all know the significant risks he takes.

In the film, Clooney is Jack, an international assassin who is so cunning, he would make novelist John Le Carre proud. After fleeing events in Sweden, he leaves for Italy, where he takes to a small town built into a mountainside and waits, knowing that sooner or later he will come under attack by the very people he left behind in Sweden.

In the meantime, events occur that shift the movie off its axis. Jack receives a job offer from his contact, Pavel (Johan Leysen), to build an exacting piece of weaponry for another assassin, Mathilde (Thekla Reute). Jack meets a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) who senses in Jack how haunted he is by life. And after a visit to a whore house, Jack also meets Clara (Violante Placido), who is so turned on by his robust technique in the bedroom, soon she wants nothing to do with his money and everything to do with him. Though Jack has learned to steer clear of relationships, he still falls for Clara, which complicates the movie immeasurably.

What lifts the film higher are Martin Ruhe's superb cinematography, which somehow makes Italy look equally beautiful and terrifying; the way the movie measures Jack's isolation by often showing him in extreme close-up; and how Rowan Joffe's script, itself based on Martin Booth's novel, "A Very Private Gentleman," stays true to the book's title. We don't come to know much about Jack, but through Clooney's fine performance, we can hear the skeletons rattling beyond his furrowed brow and know that the ghosts inside are eager to bust free.

Grade: A

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