Saturday 16 July 2011

Movie Review: The American (2010)

Self-important and pretty enough to look at, The American layers on the superficialities at a languid pace but cannot hide a cavernous hole that was supposed to be occupied by the plot.

In a remote Swedish forest, the mysterious Jack (George Clooney) and his lover Ingrid take a walk, and immediately become the target for a mysterious sniper. Jack kills the sniper, and for good measure drops Ingrid with a bullet to the head at close range. He then makes his way to Rome, and contacts his mysterious handler Pavel, whose instructions are for Jack to hide out in the countryside and wait for further instructions.

Jack drives to the town of Castel del Monte and pretends to be a photographer. He meets the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), and gets cozy with Carla (Violante Placido), a local prostitute. The instructions for his next mission soon arrive: he is to manufacture a sniper's weapon and bullets for the mysterious Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), an assassin whose target is a mystery. Jack sets up a workshop in his room and goes to work manufacturing the high-tech weapon, while fending off assassination attempts from other mysterious hit-men. As Jack gets close to finishing the rifle for Mathilde, his relationship with Carla gets serious, and he gets a mysterious feeling that his enemies are closing in on him.

An ironic title for a film seeking a most European flavour, The American hides all the relevant details of its main character then desperately pleads for sympathy. It doesn't work, and Jack (and we're not even sure what the man's real name is) can take as many scenic but seemingly dangerous walks and drives through medieval Italian towns as he likes; unless he reveals something about himself, whether he lives, loves, kills, or dies is quite irrelevant.

Clooney has a relatively easy time portraying the stone-faced Jack, looking determined and just slightly pissed-off throughout, although he never shares quite why. Is he angry at himself? at his boss? is he fed up with his job? what is exactly is his job? do organizations that arrange assassinations in this day and age really require home-made, hand-crafted guns and bullets? Jack never reveals what is behind his stare, let alone why he is acting the way he does, and without any sort of openness, he becomes just another shady character living at the edge.

Violante Placido gets to play the most honest character as Clara the prostitute, but maybe she just appears sincere because she is naked most of the time. Regardless, other than Jack's suspicions of her motives, her behaviour is at least easy to fathom: a whore who spots in Jack's lust an opportunity to move up in the world.

Paolo Bonacelli as Father Benedetto has the pleasure of spouting what are supposed to be profound statements, mostly to assure Jack that he is fooling no one by pretending to be a photographer. Benedetto joins Mathilde and Pavel as fragments of characters whose backstory and relative importance can be found in other films, but not this one.

The American makes use of attractive Italian countryside locations, and eventually it settles down to being a long, sluggish tourism advertisement. When the characters are abandoned, the countryside has to fill in the colour.

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