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The American (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Run time 105 minutes.

Not for children.

In this, Jack (George Clooney), is a weapons expert who constructs guns for assassins. But he is also a sociopathic killer. In a memorable scene his cold-bloodedness is established in the first few minutes.

Someone, identified only as “The Swedes,” is out to kill Jack, so his controller, Pavel (Johan Leysen), tells him to hide out in Abruzzo, a mountainous region of Italy located east of Rome, which introduces the main character in the film, the Italian countryside. Marin Ruhe, the Director of Photography, makes this very quiet film much more entertaining by the way he shoots the quaint neo-medieval village and romantic locations.

Based on Martin Booth’s novel A Very Private Gentleman, the script (Rowan Jaffe) is not overloaded with words and we are never told for whom Jack works. For some reason the title has been changed so that the protagonist (a shadowy character in the book) is highlighted as an “American,” maybe to satisfy Clooney’s leftwing political philosophy. Why else change the title, except to convey some obtuse message?

Jack is a brooding, Hamletesque character who clearly has a lot on his mind but doesn’t say much. As he’s hiding away, Pavel sends him a beauty, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), for whom Pavel wants Jack to build a rifle so that she can use it to kill someone. That someone is unidentified (in the book Jack, nee Clark, thinks it might be Yasser Arafat, but the book was written 10 years ago).

There are lots and lots of scenes of Jack thinking, Jack walking, Jack building a gun, and Jack brooding. Given the lack of action, director Anton Corbijn does an admirable job of keeping the pace up since we are never told exactly what’s going on, although clearly something is not as it should be.

Fortunately for the men in the audience it’s not a film where you have to sit for almost two hours and just look at Clooney, because he gets involved with a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido), who is not shy about doffing her clothes. There are several sex scenes and another in the river that make the film something more than just Clooney as eye candy for women.

Readers of my column know the low regard I have for trailers that tell the whole story, but I was astonished to watch a film clip teaser on TV that shows the surprising twist climax of the film, the moment towards which it has been building for an hour and a half. If that’s in the trailer there’s really no need to sit through the film unless you just want to look at Clooney and Placido, but gazing at Placido’s equipment might be worth the price of admission; not a horrible way to spend a couple of hours.