This weekend, my wife and I saw The American, starring George Clooney. I’ll just tell you right now, I loved it. It was exactly what I wanted coming into it and I left feeling very satisfied. Here are some of my scattered thoughts.
The trailer was almost enough to rope me in, but Roger Ebert’s review had me completely hooked. Even better, it was showing at the theatre up the street from our house, making it an excellent date-night movie for us.
This line from Ebert’s review might explain why I liked it when so many other people seem to have been bored by it: “Here is a gripping film with the focus of a Japanese drama, an impenetrable character equal to Alain Delon’s in Le Samourai…”
As many friends of mine know, I’m also a huge fan of the long-running anime/manga character Golgo 13. Golgo 13, like The American’s Jack, takes the act of assassination to a craftsman level of skill. As I watched this film, it felt a bit like what I think a Golgo 13 live-action movie would feel like, properly done. In fact, I think this movie does it so well that I don’t have any interest in seeing such a thing.
The American almost feels like it came from another time. The movie poster reinforces that. I think this movie would’ve felt more at-home in, maybe, the 60s.
One of my colleagues over at Kombo, Matt Green, tweeted at me that he felt like it was just a documentary of George Clooney’s Italian vacation. I will agree with this: The cinematography was gorgeous. This is the kind of movie that doesn’t have room for wasted shots, and it showed the natural old world beauty of the medieval Italian town Jack is staying in, without feeling like a tourist video. It only showed as much as it needed to.
For those that say the film was boring: Were we watching the same movie? The film I watched was tense from end to end. From the first moments in the snowfield to the scenes of Jack driving to the forest at the end, every moment of the film had a restrained tension to it. There was one moment I loved that showed Jack sitting in a café at night, drinking coffee. Out of the corner of his eye, he’s watching a car he knows is following him. Over the radio, the song that plays repeats “L’Americano,” over and over; he looks like an alien.
I also loved the scenes that showed Jack working on the rifle; there’s something that always gets me about seeing a truly skilled craftsman doing what they’re best at. Every move he takes, everything he does, is planned and thought-out.
I think what really throws people off is that the movie is about an assassin – not assassinating. The Bourne Humdingery is fun, but Jason Bourne isn’t exactly the most engaging character. He’s a killing machine, he’s supposed to be. The conceit of the series is that he never gets a break from running, chasing, and killing. The Bourne movies are action films of the most literal, bare variety. Which is fun; I mean, I count Hard Boiled and Shoot’em Up amongst my favorite movies.
So no, this movie is not about the killing and how many ways the character can think of to kill the endless stream of faceless enemies that follow him. The movie is about a man who is very good at what he does, but does not like it. He wants peace and trust, but those are the two things he cannot have. Of course, the themes have been done before – “one last kill” and “love is a fatal flaw” aren’t exactly new concepts. We’ve seen the themes a thousand times, but that didn’t keep this from being one of the most engaging films I’ve seen in a while.