Italian movies are crafted in such a way that other cultures simply cannot emulate; movies based off the Italian style of filmmaking can sometimes be equally interesting. Director Anton Corbijn, while clearly not Italian and certainly not making a movie about an Italian, makes The American feel as though it’s a neorealism piece. This movie takes its time with a deliberate pacing, showing off Corbijn’s insight to how he knew exactly what he was doing when he was doing it. The problem lies in the fact that American audiences have no idea what he was trying to do and will thereby not have the smidgen of patience that’s required to fully appreciate The American.
The movie’s trailer reduced the film to be about nothing more than an aging hitman who wants only to get out of the business, a plot virtually second nature to many a movie watcher. George Clooney takes the role of Jack, an assassin who waits around in luxury until his next assignment, or in this case, until a bunch of angry Swedes go out looking for his blood. The movie offers no clear cut reason as to why Jack is being hunted, aside from perhaps he has angered the wrong people, but as time elapses, a reason is not really necessary.
Clooney undertakes a role that is unlike most parts from a few of his latest films. While most of his work has been somewhat goofy, such as with the Ocean’s Eleven movies and The Men Who Stare at Goats, The American offers the actor a chance to get back to drama, letting him shine yet again. Clooney’s portrayal of Jack is one of a dispassionate and cold man, one who cannot allow himself to be tied down by anyone or anything.
The movie is set in Italy and perhaps the Italian air has some effect on the filmmaking that we see here. While not overtly a film based with roots in neorealism or even realism, there are still traces of an Italian heritage. There is an intricate sense of detail, not only with Jack and his mannerisms in getting ready for a job, but the depth into which we see how people live. There are scenes when almost nothing happens and the audience only watches basic social interactions amongst simple folk. Boredom is a common feeling for the average moviegoer to experience, but they should be trying to look beyond what they see in mainstream action movies.
I was impressed by Corbijn’s cinematography, or maybe I should be more impressed by the cinematographer himself. Regardless, there are some truly marvelous shots; the first 10-15 minutes are perhaps some of the finest opening 10-15 minutes a movie has demonstrated lately. There’s plenty of usage of space early on in the movie, especially in moments of open wilderness and yet that’s contrasted by small town claustrophobia night-based chase sequences.
Overall, I’d like to say that I had what it took to fully appreciate The American, but honestly I would need a second viewing before I could recognize it’s optimum level of charm. I wouldn’t suggest this movie for everybody, because there’s going to be a large number of people who simply won’t “get” it. The American is an reserved action thriller and more of a character case study; the movie is truly beautiful and requires the temperament one takes upon entering a museum.