Is George Clooney lonely? Feeling disconnected? Because in his last big film, Up in the Air, he played a man who kept moving in order to avoid human connections and now, in The American, he plays Jack, a gunmaker and assassin for hire, whose very job requires that he has no friends.
Call me, George. I can help.
Of course, Up in the Air’s Ryan Bingham was a charming smoothie (Clooney was able to expose the pain beneath his cavalier veneer). But The American’s Jack is more like a ghost—a man whose very economy of gesture and speech is key to his survival. It’s a strange role for Clooney to play, although I guess he’s trying to prove that he doesn’t need to do the Cary Grant thing to be a movie star. It’s true, the taciturn paranoid Jack is mesmerizing—it’s the film that left me cold.
As The American starts, Jack is living in a remote Swedish cabin with his sweetie. She knows nothing about him, as evidenced by the fact that, when they get shot at by snipers from afar, she’s shocked to discover that Jack carries a gun. He eventually lands in a tiny Italian villiage, posing as a photographer, hiding from the Swedish hitmen, and waiting for his next assignment.
The American’s director, Anton Corbijn, wants the film to mirror Jack—minimalist and sleek. But the first 40 minutes are pretty turgid stuff. We watch Jack wait for his point man in a coffee shop. He waits and waits, looks at the clock—we think the point man isn’t going to show up . . . and then he does. We see Jack pull into a tiny village, gawk at the villagers, who gawk back at him, and then drive away from the tiny village. We see him exercising, methodically, in his Italian country flat—push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups. Corbijn thinks Jack’s workout regime is so important he shows it to us twice.
Sometimes, however, Jack’s obsession for detail is fascinating. In one nifty scene, he assembles a gun, timing his loud thwacks of a hammer to perfectly correspond with the chimes of a church bell. In another scene, he packs a fake picnic lunch for a meeting with his female client—even going so far as to chill a bottle of white wine that he has no intention of drinking. “Italian cops would know,” he says—the film’s best (and only) joke.
I also liked Jack’s relationship with a kindly (but far from clueless) town priest (Paolo Bonacelli). Maybe the discussion of the existence of God and sin and redemption is a bit heavy handed, but the hearty priest adds a bit of earthiness to what is otherwise a very chilly film.
Obviously, the taciturn lone gunman stuff is a huge part of literary and film mythology. (The film, which has a largely Italian cast and crew, nods explicitly to Sergio Leone.) Frankly, I’ve never been that interested in such a character—maybe it’s a guy thing?
One thing that is most definitely a guy thing is the preponderance of hot, often naked Euro-babes Jack has to choose from. First, he’s shacked up with the aforementioned hot Swedish babe, then he beds (and falls for) an Italian prostitute who looks like she’d be more at home on the runways of Milan than a village brothel. Even the woman he’s custom-building a gun for is a female version of him; in essence this film’s answer to Up in the Air’s Vera Farmiga.
To read my complete review of The American, check out the October issue of Baltimore.