The American


The American, starring George Clooney as an assassin and weapon designer, is not a bad film. In fact, Roger Ebert gave it four stars.

That being said, you'll almost surely hate it in the unlikely event that you actually see it.

Here's why: it's a Euro-angst arty melodrama. It's a slower-than-thou Bergman movie, except that the tragic deaths come from bullets instead of dread diseases. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that, except that the trailer makes the film seem like a thriller. As a result, the people who like arthouse films probably won't go to it in the first place because they aren't interested in big Hollywood stars in contrived Hollywood-style plots about multiple assassins. The people who do want to see international assassin thrillers will hate it because they will have to endure endless, wordless, soundless shots of George Clooney walking through cobblestone medieval streets, listening to the sound of his own footsteps - or maybe a second pair - or maybe not - or maybe a second pair that has a perfectly innocent explanation. It's the UPS guy! Will Clooney kill him, just for daring to share the streets? Stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy some nighttime shots of Clooney walking through those streets, which are bathed entirely in red light, then green, then yellow, then back to red. It's an aesthetic based entirely on traffic signal sequencing.

And then there are the other usual European art-film clichés. There is explicit nudity in overlong sex scenes. There are wordless scenes of Clooney sitting in cafes, waiting for people to arrive, looking out the windows, on his toes, yet all the while remembering more joyful moments in the past. There is the outrageously beautiful and naive prostitute required by movie law to be in every remote mountainside Euro-podunk. There is the talkative local priest who knows all, yet harbors secrets of his own. Actually, I'm glad that last stereotype was included, because without that nosey priest there might have been no dialogue at all except taciturn exchanges of necessary information, punctuated by the occasional grunt. To make things even more arty, the screenwriter retooled the bittersweet ending of the source novel (Martin Booth's "A Very Private Gentleman") by removing the "sweet" part. As the Europeans like to sing: "Accentuate the negative. Eliminate the positive."

Just for fun, it also includes all the clichés from assassin thrillers! There's the ol' "one last job" mantra, not to mention "you're losing your edge," and my own personal favorite, "don't make friends or fall in love."

But despite drawing from both extremes, The American is neither a breath mint nor a candy mint, neither less filling nor great tasting, neither thriller nor Oscar-bait. One can't call it a plot-driven thriller because the plot makes no sense and the characters behave in a baffling manner that is both illogical and contrary to their best interests. On the other hand, it's not a character-driven art film because ... well, because we know nothing about the characters, they rarely speak, and they don't evolve. What does drive it, if not plot or character? Atmosphere. It's the kind of film praised by critics and graduates from film school, who have to struggle to hear the film over the sound of the rest of the audience snoring.

The L.A. Times hit the nail on the head:

"If you haven't heard already, the George Clooney film "The American" has the dubious distinction of being the No. 1 movie at the box office this weekend despite having received an abysmal grade of D minus from CinemaScore, which tracks the reaction of rank-and-file moviegoers to the latest films. Even worse, the film's target audience -- adults older than 25, who made up 88% of the audience, gave it an F.

They were propelled into theaters by Clooney's cool-guy image and the film's slick TV spots, which sold the picture as a taut, "Michael Clayton"-style thriller."

This is not Clooney's first journey into the depths of CinemaScore. If memory serves, his Solaris has the lowest ratings in CinemaScore history, having scored straight Fs from every single demographic grouping! Fortunately for GC, he's such a charming, charismatic guy that people always seem to forgive him for these klunkers and go to his next film with high hopes.

Unlike Solaris, The American is not without some mainstream appeal. I have to admit that I really liked the first five minutes of the film, and I enjoyed the last seven minutes except for the final minute with the rewritten ending. You could make a really great movie by taking those sections and tying them together with a zippy Greengrass-style plot.

Unfortunately, they are actually connected by a Tarkovsky movie.

By the way, the aforementioned Solaris was a remake of an actual Tarkovsky movie. You'd think Clooney would have realized from that experience that Tarkovsky wasn't his fans' cup of tea. Of course, Solaris and the middle of The American are actually pretty good Tarkovsky films, and that may be your thing, baby.

But it's not mine.




At this point it is cam quality, but you still want to see it. Whatever failings the film may have, one cannot complain about the flesh. Gorgeous Violante Placido showed everything in two sex scenes and some skinny-dipping, while Irina Bjorklund flashed her butt briefly.


  • * Yellow asterisk: funny (maybe).

  • * White asterisk: expanded format.

  • * Blue asterisk: not mine.

  • No asterisk: it probably sucks.


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