Movie Review: “The American”

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I don’t know what to make of “The American.” It’s not an action spy movie and it’s not a suspense thriller either. If you’re expecting a fast-paced flashy “James Bond,” a gritty “Bourne,” or even an international intrigue like “The International” (starring Clive Owen), you’d be sorely disappointed. It’s simply not that kind of movie. The trailer is misleading, unfortunately. It’s a foreign film set in a foreign country, which happens to star George Clooney, as yes, the only American.

Jack (or Edward – who knows), a former assassin-for-hire, lives a secluded life in a remote, picturesque Italian village on a hill. Constantly fearing for his life, he’s persistently paranoid and always looking over his shoulder – for good reason. It seems that the past has caught up with him; other gun-trotting, shadowy figures are tracking him down. Although it can be said that when Jack’s on the job, he doesn’t leave anything behind.

For whatever reason, he agrees to accept a one last assignment from his obscured employer. And this time, he doesn’t even have to kill. His job is to build a custom-made weapon, a compact rifle with machine gun capability. He’s had exchanges with the buyer, a femme fatale with ever-changing hairdo (Thekla Reuten), to ensure that the weapon will be precisely as ordered. Along the way, he has lurid encounters with a prostitute (Violante Placido), and somehow lust turns into love. He also befriends a priest (Paolo Bonacelli) with a sordid past.

“The American” is more like a character-centric drama (or rather, lack of the latter) with a languorous pace. It’s been dubbed as a “character study” or “mood film.” I am actually one of those who believe there’s a beauty in silence and subtleties, but here the story just isn’t there for me.

We’re subjected to almost-still pictures of the day in-and-out in the life of a one-dimensional character. It’s as if someone takes a camera, points and shoots at the minutiae of what someone does from the moment he wakes up in the morning until he goes to bed at night – only against the backdrop of majestic vistas.

For a character-centric film, it lacks a lot – background, history, motivations, emotions, meaningful connections – in other words, all the dimensions that would make Jack’s character compelling. Whilst the ending exposes the purpose of his last job and hits the intended target with a bulls eye accuracy, I’m afraid that it’s a little too late to care when everything comes to a disastrous end.

Copyright (c) 2010. Nathalia Aryani

Nathalia Aryani is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic ( She has a movie blog, The MovieMaven ( Twitter: @the_moviemaven. She can be reached at [email protected].

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