MarketBOB's Movie Review

The American Movie Review

© 2010 by Sportscar Projects Ltd.

The American
Sept. 1, 2010

George Clooney is The American hiding from inept Swedish assassins in Italy, home of the most wonderful hills we’ve seen in movies this year, courtesy of Italian actress Violante Placido. Oh yes, if you’re a big Clooney fan, you may have to make up your own ending. One Word Movie Review: Okay The American is George Clooney moodily wandering the cobblestones in this Ingmar Bergman-esque spaghetti western assassin retirement film. Set in Sweden and Italy’s hilltop villages of Castelvecchio, Castel Del Monte and Sulmona, the story of George’s last few days on the job as a hired killer/gunsmith is told in loving facial close-up, birds-eye panoramas and short focus windows and mirrors which, no doubt, attempt to show the troubled soul of a man who kills for money but to whom we should care about. We need these “artsy” camera shots because there is precious little dialogue to explain what the hell is going on. The American is very European-style storytelling. There is a car/scooter chase,

full-frontal female nudity (sorry, no shots of Clooney’s aging butt but plenty of Violante Placido’s marvelous Italian “hills”) and homage to Sergio Leone’s One Upon a Time in the West and Fred Zinnemann’s Day of the Jackal. George plays a minimalist killer, in the Clint Eastwood vein of “a man with no name and few words”. George says little, but does toss around many names for himself like Jack, Edward and Mr. Butterfly. He’s a jumpy guy, holed up in these small towns because an angry mob of Swedish assassins are out to get him. We don’t know why. Lucky for George (forget his other names, this is Clooney all the way), the Swedes are the worst killers on the continent. George even chases one down while riding a Vespa in the dark, shooting and steering the thing around cobbled streets. Yeah, right. George orders coffee about fifty times in this movie, from several cafes he uses to meet his fellow assassins, hookers and partners. He also walks up about five hundred stairs, as these towns have narrow streets only wide enough for pedestrians and one scooter which arrives at the most opportunistic times. Having stayed in such towns, the noise of these damn scooters would make anyone an

assassin so the death of this guy was a welcome sight. So, we have the butterfly motif threading through the movie, the endangered and fragile creature, yet so beautiful when set free…as it flies up into the trees just as the end credits roll. This, of course, is George’s release into a better world and about time, as the gorgeous Placido stands by the river clutching his cash. If you like Italian hill towns, people ordering coffee a lot and dark strolls through empty cobbled streets, then this is a perfect movie for you. This is a character study of a killer at the end of his career, a moody piece of film-making more concerned with style than substance. These are not bad things, but be warned before you buy your ticket. This is not a Bourne Identity clone by any stretch of the European scenery. The Story The story opens in the snow of Sweden, in a tranquil cabin on a frozen lake. George and his “friend” Ingrid are lounging by the fire, after having intimate relations. This could be the start of a Bond film because this is the setting for three deaths - he clues in to the trap because the Swedish

assassin left footprints in the snow - and a hasty exit by our killer Clooney. We follow him to Italy and his contact/partner/boss who sets him up with a car and a hideout in the hills and a job helping another assassin by building her a special rifle. George is an expert machinist, weapons expert and all-round meticulous fussypants when it comes to death. He takes forever to build this rifle that works like a submachine gun for a woman we’ll call Mathilde (not her real name) but played cool and competently by Thekla Reuten. So, we’re already deflated to learn George’s next assignment isn’t a hit but a weapon build. Could this be because he’s the target? Is his boss being paid by the Swedes? Should George be so jumpy? Or should he just fall in love with the first Italian whore he meets and run away from the business of contract killing. George does push-ups, chin-ups, sips coffee, pays for whores, walks around town and has dinner with the local priest who can see through his façade to the living hell he dwells in. You see, poor George has no love in his life. Mr. Butterfly needs to be set free. You can perhaps figure out the ending, and all I will say is that my

companion, who enjoys George’s acting perhaps a bit too much, had to make up her own “special” ending to The American. The Genre The Euro-assassin art-film new wave oeuvre genre has delivered a few surprising hits like La Femme Nikita and well, perhaps that’s about it. Having assassin movies set in Europe has been popular as well, including the previously mentioned Jackal and Bourne movies as well as the endless Bond series. We can get tired of stories set in New York and Los Angeles, so new locations help spark our interest as an audience. However, the European sensitivities for story, action and character are markedly different than the North American action-driven style of killer movies. The American appeals to a more mature, travelled crowd. In my opening night audience, there were few people under thirty and more people wearing white socks in one place than I’ve seen since high school gym class. All that being said, wouldn’t it be a blast if, just once, we had one of these movies add someone like Rick Steves in a walk-on and accidentally get blown away by one of the assassins, right in the middle of one of his

speeches about the darling little bed and breakfast he discovered just up the street from the cathedral. Hey Hollywood, just a thought to increase audience appeal.

The Overall Quality The American takes its time on purpose, so you can’t fault it for pace or style. It is interesting to watch, not gripping or exciting, but engrossing as we follow this man through his final days before retirement. Clooney gives us a mask of a man, hiding behind the mechanics of his work and the distance he puts between himself and anyone close to him. The acting is first-rate; with new faces we haven’t seen before in a Hollywood movie including some we’ll no doubt see more of, including the radiant Violante Placido as the whore/savior. The script by Rowan Joffe is the big problem. Based on a book by Martin Booth (A Very Private Gentleman), the story makes no sense on the screen and builds very little suspense or conflict into the simple story. There are many improbable scenes and story loopholes where you wonder how stupid some characters are and why things happen for no reason. The direction by Anton Corbijn is concerned with landscapes and perspective, both of faces and locations. By the time we see the profile of the priest in front of George’s face as they talk about the existence of Hell, you want to toss something at the screen. There are close-ups of faces in car mirrors, bathroom mirrors and bar

mirrors, to name a few. The opening credits over the long drive down the tunnel to the light tells the whole story, ending with the title reveal (yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel in this movie, just not the light you expect). The camera soars high to show the rooftops, the winding, lonely roads and the undulating hillsides, all barren and lifeless. Is this about death and loneliness? We get it. This is a quiet movie, without a music soundtrack which adds to the sparseness of the story. Music only enters when Jack/Edward/Mr. Butterfly announces his retirement to his handler. Ah, now we get the background music. Things will start happening now. Just don’t hold your breath right away. Wait for it… Movie/Market Analysis The movie mood for audiences leaving the theater is Negative, The trailer is a fast-cut thriller which is anything but the reality of this film. This is only for those die-hard Clooney fans and people who like to see movies for the scenery. MarketBOB’s sentiment indicators, the GQS (Genre, Quality, Story) rate The American an emotional BEAR. I hate to be cynical about major stars, but one wonders if George was looking for a project near his Italian villa so he could

stay near one of his homes and work at the same time. He’s also getting older and this character is in his “zone”. Perhaps he’s working out a new career path modeled on Clint Eastwood, which might explain the minimal dialogue and homage to Sergio Leone movies.

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