The American (2010)

136.

★★★★

Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Written by: Rowan Joffe (screenplay), Martin Booth (novel)
Starring: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, and Violante Placido

Stripped of the witticism and charm usually accompanying his earlier roles, George Clooney looks pretty bored when he’s trying to be somber. In much the same way, Anton Corbijn’s elegant existential examination of … well, an American… can seem boring for those who might expect a conventional thriller. What we get instead is something more suited to arthouse sensibilities as the film finds compelling and suspenseful moments in the quiet and brooding visual direction of Mr. Corbijn.

Clooney in an existential crisis (whilst making a gun).

While several ladies call him “Jack”, “Edward”, and “Mr. Butterfly”, an American pretending to be a photographer in a quiet Italian town is keeping his identity hidden for good reason. He makes specialized weapons for a living, being a pretty expert shot himself. With a small band of Scandinavians on his tail,  the American finds himself questioning his line of work, and deeper ideas about his conscience.

The measured skill and control Corbijn exercises over the performances, the pace, and the visual direction in The American is nothing short of masterful. As Clooney’s character comes into contact with the local priest, a prostitute, his chief contact, and buyer, their short, taciturn conversations are given the time and depth they deserve, digging into the depths of a man’s vulnerability to love and fear. And with the mountainous regions of Italy as a backdrop, the violence and tension of the American’s journey are given a lyricism and beauty that is unparalleled.

In piecing together a weapon that is bound by specifics and a serious level of detail, the American’s quiet concentration is matched with the film’s own carefully crafted plot structure and execution. The American is gripping and expertly crafted.

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