I’m an American, or at least a naturalized one that has spent more than 90% of my life in the States. As an American I have been conditioned to love fast-paced action movies, with heroes that are larger than life, and a script that favors quotable one-liners over uninspired conversation. In short, I am the perfect Iron Man fan. That said, I am not above enjoying good character studies in a movie that moves at the pace of most foreign films, a personal flaw that explains my love for Lost in Translation. However The American, George Clooney’s latest spy thriller, fails to be either one. Those looking for an action movie along the lines of the Bourne Identity are better off going to see Machete this weekend, while those looking for a good foreign film should spend their time searching through the shelves of their local Blockbusters.
What Doesn’t Work:
Besides its slow pace and lack of an inspired script (the movie is based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman), the movie fails to work because of Clooney’s inability to bring complexity to his character. As Jack, an assassin suffering from the increased loneliness his profession demands, Clooney is strictly one dimensional and emotionally impotent. The role, which calls for a certain amount of duality in personality, is ill-fitted to his skill set. Perhaps if Jack’s cold hitman demeanor would have been counter-balanced with a healthy dose of Clooney’s boyish charm, the character could have had a measure of depth. As it is, the best the writers can do to create a duality of personality is to give Jack an interest in butterflies – an interest that is neither fully developed nor offers a glimpse of the inner man.
As Jack’s love interest Clara, Italian actress Violante Placido fares only slightly better, though the actress somehow felt that the best way to convey that she is a prostitute is to spend most of her screen time topless. Judging from what she told People magazine about the movie’s pivotal love scene, the actress is also far more comfortable with on screen intimacy than George Clooney. It’s a shame that her character, like the movie, chose to take such an easy way out, especially since Clara is able to sell her romantic interest in Jack with a hopeful look much more than with her physique.
What Does Work:
Perhaps it’s because her role does not demand much from her, but Dutch actress Thekla Reuten manages to be believable as the female assassin Mathilde. Icy cool and self assured, Reuten’s character is not above playfully teasing Jack when they are together, though her time on screen is not long enough (nor does the script require it) for the two characters to develop a strong like or dislike for one another.
Aside from Reuten’s performance, the best the movie has to offer is the picturesque Italian countryside that serves as its background. However, as beautiful as the location may be, it is not enough to make up for the film’s multiple short comings.
Unless you are an unabashed George Clooney fan or a sap for anything that Hollywood offers with an Italian backdrop, this film is strictly a rental. And even as a rental, The American will fall a few courses short of a full meal.