In Which Even Italy Becomes Ugly
Main Cast: George Clooney, Violante Placido, Paolo Bonacelli
Director: Anton Corbijn
I admit it; George Clooney is a big draw for me. His presence in a movie makes me far more likely to see it, regardless of reviews or box office. Usually my faith is rewarded, at the very least with a dose of Charming George. And that, my friends, is how I went into The American. Sometimes faith is a harsh mistress.
The American is a simple, time worn story of a man who does bad things for a living realizing that he wants out. Clooney plays Jack, who when the film opens is living in Sweden. Circumstances soon make a change of scenery necessary and we find him in Italy, where he contacts his boss and is given the means to travel to a safe location. In the meantime he is also asked to do a job – one that he decides will be his last.
As much as it pains me, The American sucks and George Clooney can do nothing to change that simple reality. Based on a novel by Martin Booth and directed by Anton Corbijn, the film is dull, slow and predictable. Jack is a man of few words. So few words that much of the film is conducted in slow silence. The introduction of Clara (Violante Placido), a prostitute with whom Jack forms a connection, does little to improve either pace or character development. We learn very little about either Jack or Clara apart from their less than admirable occupations.
I’ll give Clooney kudos for doing the best he can with lousy material. Jack is not only brooding, but paranoid and on edge – for good reason. People are always trying to kill him, a natural outcome of being a hit-man, I suppose. His boss is losing faith, he’s isolated and losing confidence and Clooney does a decent job portraying all of that with body language and facial expression. He gets precious few chances to expound on it through narrative so it’s a good thing he has some non-verbal skills on which to fall back. Unfortunately, without that narrative, or any real development of his character, it’s almost impossible to feel any sympathy for Jack – he’s not a good guy and we are never really able to invest in his attempts at redemption. Even his pseudo-friendship with a priest (Paolo Bonacelli), seemingly an attempt to give Jack an outlet for his internal angst, fails by virtue of being filled with vague illusions and too much silence.
The same is true of every character in The American – nobody is developed past their jobs. And nobody really has a job that makes us root for them to be saved or redeemed or anything else. It turns into a sad parade of nasty people killing other nasty people in short, cheap action sequences. Even the Italian countryside looks faded and ugly, reflecting the characters perfectly but leaving the audience with nothing.
As much as I like Clooney, The American fails on nearly every level. The characters are shallow and trite, the situations are vague yet predictable, the dialogue is scant and unproductive and we end up with no investment in what happens to these people. 2 stars out of 5 for Clooney’s attempt to create a character from nothing, but not recommended.