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28th September
written by Mad Cow

Rated R for violence, sexual content and nudity

Mad Cow’s Rating:

Beginning in Sweden but moving quickly to Italy, we meet Jack the assassin (George Clooney). He is willing to kill anyone if necessary to save his life and to obey his boss. Having had a close call, he must hang out in a gorgeous hillside Italian village and try not to get to know anyone. After a time he’s asked to build a special weapon instead of actually firing one himself and we discover his mechanical ability. Meanwhile he does get to know someone and it’s a woman of course. Then a couple of exciting things happen.

Watching this movie is a lot like looking at someone’s picture album from their vacation in Italy. Director Anton Corbijn and cinematographer Martin Ruhe, who have worked together before (Control) have done a magnificent job of making each scene, particularly those outdoors, pleasing to the eye. Without the hills and town and aerial views of Jack driving around the countryside, I could have fallen asleep, because there is very little plot to speak of. Rowan Joffe wrote the screenplay based on the book A Very Private Gentleman, by Martin Booth. Just reading a synopsis of the book made me long to see some of the things Joffe left out. This could have been a really good movie!

Americans will find this movie “foreign” which indeed it is. Clooney may be the only American involved in the production. To many of us this is not a criticism but a recommendation so I’m compelled to say simply that the film is kind of “pseudo-foreign” and proof that people all over the world can make bad movies. It’s spare, provides few explanations for words or actions, not to mention motivations, and takes itself very seriously. Why it’s called The American is beyond me.

The film is rather like a “day in the life of” some sort of worker.  Thus, we might watch a fly-on-the-wall documentary that follows around a guy who works as a clock maker, watching him at his craft and getting a peek at his personal life, but with little commentary. The American just happens to be a few days in the life of an assassin. As shown, the job tends to produce paranoia and a few nightmares but there are beautiful women involved, at least for this male assassin.

It is remarkable that Clooney gets naked a lot in this movie, either when he is having sex or working out without his shirt on. Needless to say, he’s very fit and some who find him attractive (like almost all of the heterosexual women over 35 in the country) will undoubtedly enjoy these moments. I can just see his agent telling him that he needs to reve up his sex appeal since he is getting older, although I respect Clooney too much to believe that’s the only reason why he made the film. My guess is that he was experimenting as he has done so many times. Good Night and Good Luck, that marvelous biopic of Edward R. Murrow which Clooney also directed, comes to mind. Not to mention Welcome to Collinwood and O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the amazing Burn After Reading.

The “love interest” is as trite as it can be. It’s become boringly predictable that whenever a leading man gets interested in someone like a waitress or, as in this movie, a prostitute, she happens to outshine all of her sisters in the place, looking amazingly middle-class and certainly more beautiful or anyway “less cheap.” Clara (Violante Placido) almost magically transcends her vocation to the point of total denial on Jack’s part, leading him to generous but absurdly reckless love-making.  Anyway, the women in the movie are unreal. Not only Clara but his first girlfriend (Irina Bjorklund) and the “fellow” assassin for whom he makes the weapon (Thekla Reuten) are so drop-dead gorgeous (pun intended) that they are more like part of the scenery than they are part of the story. Now that’s American.

All in all, I think we are supposed to look and not think. It’s hard to discuss the film’s flaws without giving everything away since there’s so little there, but consider that the little town seems not to have any police. Also the moral equivalents in the conversations between Jack and the priest (Paolo Bonacelli) who befriends him are laughably incongruous. And then there’s the machine shop in Jack’s room. But hey, there is an exciting ending, which I sort of missed. Who knew there was going to be some action?

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