The American (Focus Features, R)

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As you can probably tell from the above plot description, you’ve seen films like The American a million times before. I have a soft spot for the genre, and I was particularly excited to see this one, with Corbijn at the helm.

I’m all ready for there to be a Green Zone-style backlash to the new film The American. I mean, it stars the notoriously liberal George Clooney, is called The American, which implies some kind of patriotic statement, and was directed by a guy with a decidedly un-American name, Anton Corbijn. As it turns out, The American isn’t any kind of comment on American values or culture or war policy. Its title refers to its main character, Jack (Clooney), who spends the duration of the film in European countries alone and keeping to himself. His nationality is about the only way his friends, neighbors and business associates know him.

Jack tries to avoid knowing said friends, neighbors and business associates, though, on account of his profession: he’s an assassin. The film begins in Sweden where the job he’s on gets a little out of hand. The vast majority of the movie takes place in Italy, where Jack is contracted to make a very specific weapon for a mysterious stranger named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). While in Italy working on this piece, he falls in with a gorgeous prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) and sort-of befriends a priest (Paolo Bonacelli).

As you can probably tell from the above plot description, you’ve seen films like The American a million times before. I have a soft spot for the genre, and I was particularly excited to see this one, with Corbijn at the helm. This is only his second feature film after 2007’s excellent Joy Division flick Control, and he had reliably done great work in the music video industry prior to that. But while his hand is sure here, it isn’t enough to make The American worth seeing for those who aren’t a fan of the genre.

Plot aside, the one thing to recommend The American is that it is routinely beautiful to look at in a variety of ways. The bulk of the film is set against a beautiful Italian backdrop, so you get the escapist travelogue value there. Also, Corbijn and his cinematographer, Martin Ruhe, seem to be rather taken with the physical beauty of Clooney and newcomer (to American films at least; she’s 34 in real life) Placido. Clooney has a large number of scenes in which he runs around shirtless, and often is doing pull-ups, push-ups, and other things that demonstrate what good shape he is in for an almost 50-year-old man. Meanwhile, Placido spends most of her numerous scenes very naked.

Ultimately, The American is an agreeable enough way to spend a couple of hours, but I don’t see anyone being too impressed with it, unless they are infatuated with Clooney or Placido. And maybe if you really try you can turn it into a comment on American foreign policy — it is about a white American who goes to foreign countries, kills people and leaves, after all. | Pete Timmermann

 

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