Directed by Anton Corbijn
Written by Rowan Joffe
The American had potential. It has George Clooney in it. That seems like it could be enough, but add to the fact that the trailer made it look like a slick spy/assassin film and I was totally on board. It even got positive reviews, especially by my favorite critic, Roger Ebert, who gave the film four stars! But, knowing this, I tried to avoid knowing what the film was about before I finally did see it. The problem with this theory: I may not have been able to find out had I tried, because after seeing the film, I still don’t know what the film is about, but I will do my best to summarize nothing.
Jack (Clooney) appears to be some kind of assassin and when he makes a friend he shouldn’t, he is forced to kill and then hide from those who are after them. He settles on the Italian countryside for his hiding, but he is soon hired to construct a special gun for an assassination by a beautiful woman named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). He spends his time making the weapon, befriending a prostitute and a priest, and avoiding the men on his tail for his past crimes.
The film is excruciatingly slow. It has minimal dialogue and Corbijn’s camera seems to settle on the scene and let it play out. This style can be very effective and sometimes it is what works best for the film, but in those cases, the camera must be telling a story while doing so. This is the anti-Bourne spy thriller. Underneath it wants to be a thriller, but on the surface, what we see, it is not a thriller, it is instead a mood piece and the individual struggle of Jack, dealing with his existence and his desire to be done and find love instead.
The style ultimately did not work for me. Instead of being contemplative and reflective of humanities sins, it was just boring and slow. Maybe I am being harsh, because that was my initial reaction and after thinking about it for some time I was able to see what the filmmakers could have been going for. The idea of being the maker of our own deaths, the idea that love can kill us and so on and so forth. These are all nice and good, but it still remains that I did not respond to the way the film was made, the way the story was told. It was too subtle when it should have been just subtle. It was too slow when it should have just been slow. It was The American when it should have been The Human.