The American

How to Build Things and Walk Around


Starring: George Clooney, Violante Placido

By Robert Patrick

One year for Christmas George Clooney bought his friends a bushel of his favorite DVDs. In this basket of celluloid contained many films, mostly political thrillers from the nineteen-seventies, along with a few nondescript comedies and storied classics. Within this bundle lay “Day of the Jackal”, a film made during the Nixon administration that revolved around – you guessed it – political espionage and private liaisons. The movie featured a lone assassin, simply called “The Jackal”, that spent his time assembling rifles and bouncing around the countryside en route to his target. The Jackal rarely spoke and had the moral compass of an African buffalo. Being that “Day of the Jackal” is one of Clooney’s favorite films, it is no surprise that “The American” is so perfectly similar in character and pacing – but not nearly as good.

Director Anton Corbijn’s film is often morose, docile, irremediably stoic. Clooney plays a professional killer who spends his time wallowing in, presumably, regret over his volatile and unfulfilled life as a hired assassin. During the opening scenes of “The American”, Clooney is located by unnamed baddies, attacked, then forced into hiding. The destination he is sent to by his employer is an archaic one, somewhere in Italy, where the only inhabitants seem to be priests, hookers and mechanics – no other person or class of people are ever shown in the town.

While hiding from unknown enemies, Clooney does the most monotonous, colorless activities fathomable, such as purchasing items out of vending machines and lying down. Once and again, when screenwriter Rowan Joffe feels dangerous, Clooney does partially animate things: walking around, with the camera focused behind his head, being one of them. There are other times when George builds silencers out of car parts because he is resourceful (cool if it weren’t in real time).

“The American” doesn’t necessarily capitalize on its murky, dramatic trailer; there isn’t much suspense in the actual film, and it’s so slow that you could probably read the entire works of Ernest Hemingway by the time the credits roll. Audiences by and large will probably act irascibly when they watch a film that is essentially akin to “Michael Clayton” on Quaaludes. To make matters worse, the dialogue has such a defeatist attitude that I doubt anyone even tried to write anything of substance; I have heard more interesting conversations in the lobby of a car dealership.

We are also plunked in the eyes with heavy-handed symbolism and honeycombed metaphors. There is this horribly overindulgent, repeatedly overused, diatribe about butterflies being free and how Clooney’s character is not. This was about as irredeemably contrived as the shot of the rat in “The Departed”. What’s with all of these animal analogies?

Strangely enough, “The American” is also inundated with nudity. Violante Placido may as well have been doing a Playboy cover shoot the way she was waltzing around, grinning to the camera, and unsheathing her breasts in this picture. I generally don’t really notice, care, pointedly remark about this type of material unless it is gratuitous – and this is one pantyless leg-uncrossing away from being a Larry Clark film. I’m not exactly sure what Anton Corbijn was trying to accomplish with this, unless he simply gave up on the story and decided to placate his male audience with a plethora of boob-shots to compensate for the lackadaisical story.

I would say that “The American” will die in the water come Oscar season, but if I have learned anything from last year’s “Invictus” debacle, anything can happen to skew common logic. Forget this film and go rent “Day of the Jackal”, you will thank me.


Author: Rob Patrick

The program director of the Olympia Film Society, Rob is also a former San Diego Film Critics Society member. He has written for The East County Californian, The Alpine Sun, The East County Herald, The San Diego Entertainer, and the San Diego Reader. When he isn't curating a film festival, he is drinking rosé out of a plastic cup in Seattle or getting tattoos from Jenn Champion.

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