Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Movie Review: The American

Sadly, he only rocks the Connery beard
for the first scene or two.
Most thriller pieces fall into one of two categories: the more action packed version, focusing on using lots of showy gunfire, fights, car chases; and the more psychological one, focusing on examining one character. The first one is fast paced, high adrenaline stuff that if done well both excites and entertains, but often the action takes away too much from the story it is trying to tell. But under no conditions should you go to The American expecting this type of movie, because while it is certainly a thriller, it falls decisively into the second thriller category, perhaps you would call it a psychological thriller, and here character development and plot structure are key. This explains the sedate pace and brooding tone, instead of flash-bang action.

However, while The American does follow the basic structure of a psychological thriller, it misses something critical, namely that it is necessary to present some sort of larger theme or idea so that the mystery and intrigue have substance. Now, to be fair, the American does in fact attempt to follow this rule. George Clooney, as the hit man Jack, is on a mission from his boss Pavel to craft and deliver a unique type of gun to a woman named Mathilde. Redemption, the main theme to be found here, is what Jack seems to have on his mind as he contemplates leaving his line of work in pursuit of a different, renewed lifestyle elsewhere. The American’s greatest flaw is that it largely failed to utilize or develop this theme of redemption properly, thus failing more broadly to find a place amongst the other entries under the second category of thriller. 

Although it brushes often on the idea of redemption,
The American never attempts to create a new take on this now very familiar topic. This would have been acceptable had it meant that at least the theme would be addressed in a deep, compelling manner. Alas, The American retains neither of these two traits. Despite all the long, thoughtful shots of George Clooney staring solemnly out the window of a coffee shop or walking in a beautiful town or forest, it does not make one think. To put things bluntly, the Bourne series was probably more intellectually savvy than this film. This is primarily due to the lack of truly interesting characters. Jack, the film’s central component, rarely allows one to see his true side, preferring to be lonely and isolated and has difficulty making human connections. Which obviously sets himself up for opening up over the course of the movie and ultimately learning to open up, but this seems not to be how this movie play out. Jack goes by several codenames and frequently tells lies about himself (in fact, the name Jack itself could very well be simply another codename, not this man’s true identity). By the end, it feels as if his personality and especially his background had not been as thoroughly explored as perhaps it should have been.

But at least Jack, despite being a bit too much of an enigma, does manage to interest the viewer. His interactions with most of the supporting cast, on the other hand, generally create a different set of emotions, most of which are not positive. Shallow is an apt description of Jack’s romantic relationship with the hooker Clara. Their connection (or lack thereof) rarely causes anything other than apathy: the whole setup obviously positions itself to act as little more than a tool to examine Jack’s persona and possible redemption, and does so only in a heavy-handed way, or so artistically and vaguely that the symbolism is entirely impossible to figure out. However, another potential reaction this relationship may cause is distraction. Normally, nudity or sexual activity can be utilized to serve the overall point and structure of a film, but in The American this principle seems to be abused with an excessive amount of casually explicit scenes which can only be described as unnecessary and gratuitous. Parts including Jack and his other acquaintance Father Benedetto are at least a bit better, while still a little bland and cliché. One conversation ends with Jack stating “I don’t think God is interested in me, Father.” Overdone lines such as these make the script sound as if it has been heard hundreds of times before. 

Anyways, at least The American remains a beauty to look at. Director Anton Corbijn, largely known for his photography and work on various music videos, brings an artful touch to his piece, and of course shooting in the midst of an Italian countryside never hurts either. But at the end of the day, visual appeal fails to improve a film whose focus is primarily non-visual but can’t seem to pull off any meaningful thematic work.

Overall Review: Neutral

Nate S Grade: 
Aesthetics: B+
Acting: B+
Plot: B-
Characters: B
Overall Grade: B
“You sack of wine!”
-Nate S.


  1. Ben basically hit it straight on. No further commentary needed.

  2. ok. i respect that. I just didn't get that vibe from the review. But nice job with the review, Nate.

  3. Since I saw it with him (and Joseph), I feel qualified to answer that one.

    It's a "Neutral" because although it wasn't all that entertaining or had any great meaning behind it, and generally didn't have a lot of hugely redeeming qualities, it wasn't actively bad. The movie was made to be artsy, and it accomplished that much. It's one of those nothing very good, nothing very bad kind of things. It just kind of is.

  4. Obviously i disagreed. However, I am a little confused. You labeled it as "neural" but the last part of your paragraph, where it starts with Anyways. seems to send off a signal that the only good thing about the movie is that the scenery is good and that it can't pull off any meaningful thematic work. Maybe i got it wrong, but this review seemed on the negative side more than neutral


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