Movie #33: The American

I tried to choose a photo that would not give readers a false impression of The American (nothing with Clooney staring down a scope, or holding a pistol out ready to fire). It is far from being the action-packed, spy-fi thrill ride one might expect. I knew very little about this movie, so it served me right that I was not prepared for this quiet, slow-paced, dry film that does not give up its meaning easily. To be fair, the film itself was misleading in that the prologue scene contains a very surprising death. Anyway, George Clooney stars as a man who is being pursued by Swedish men who want to kill him, and doing a job for a gruff, white-haired man with bad teeth. The man is like a kind of agent, and Clooney’s being hired out for one last commission to make a special rifle that is clearly going to be used in some kind of murder. On the run from the Swedes, Clooney’s agent sends him to a small medieval town in northern Italy. There he makes contact with a woman who is going to pay him for the rifle. He spends his time in the town of Castelvecchia like a craftsman, slowly working on his masterpiece. Before he delivers the product, he meets a local prostitute (For such an unadorned movie, the prostitutes sure look gorgeous — especially for such a small town brothel). Even though he shows almost no emotions, she starts to fall for Clooney (I guess it’s just ‘cos it’s Clooney. Some guys get all the breaks, eh?) and he seems to have feelings for her too. The only other real character in this movie is a local priest, who is super-friendly to Clooney (though not in a suspicious way). I’m not quite sure of the point of his character. There are a few more plot points, but considering how little story there is to this film, I don’t want to give too much away. Mostly it’s a character study, picture-postcard with a tense, lethal undertone. To that end, it reminds me a little of Ryan Gosling’s recent movie, Drive, but it is a lot more detached than that movie was. The tones and style give a 1970s feel to the movie — in fact, it was really hard to tell what time period the movie was set in because everything from the clothing, to cars, to the decor were all a bit old fashioned, with a timeless, run-down quality. Clooney gave a good performance, especially since many scenes had no dialogue (he sure knows how to put his all into the assembling of a gun), but he didn’t get much chance to grin his usual roguish grin. The cinematography, however, was excellent (doesn’t hurt that the director was also a photographer) and each shot is nicely composed. All that being said, considering the subject matter and potential for thrills, this movie is slow. It also has a pretty bare feel to it. For example, the scenes use a very still, handheld camera and we hear a lot of the ambient sounds around, such as other diners in a restaurant). There is a pretty good score, but music is used sparingly (mostly for montages). The movie is also bare in that there are not many scenes to explain things to the audience — this film has zero percent exposition fat. Unfortunately for someone thick like I am, I was left with a number of unanswered questions. Let’s hope they weren’t actually important. In the end, it’s hard for me to recommend this film as something that most people would enjoy. If you’re a fan of spy-fi, I’d sooner pick something featuring Angelina Jolie, or Tom Cruise, or wait for the new 007 movie Skyfall to premiere. (3.5 out of 5).

33 down, 17 to go!

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