The American (2010)


We’ve been here many, many times before, a tale of an assassin who wants nothing more than a quiet life only to have things that keep popping up to cause him problems and potential bodily harm. So what can director Anton Corbijn and writer Rowan Joffe (working from the novel by Martin Booth) bring to this familiar ground?

Well, first of all they have George Clooney in the central role, lending his character a mix of cool capability and general weariness. There is a core of charm and cockiness there that Clooney can always turn on to max at the flick of the switch but there’s also a coldness (as you would expect from such a character) and a sense that this man is not sure of anything any more since slowly realising that he doesn’t want to keep seeing the world down the sight of a gun. Clooney is ably supported by Violante Placido as Carla, a beautiful prostitute with whom a relationship grows, and Thekla Reuten as Mathilde, a woman who has hired him to build a custom firearm for her. The only two other main male figures are Johan Leysen as Pavel, a boss figure who gives “the American” details of his jobs, and a local priest (Father Benedetto, played by Paolo Bonacelli) who strikes up a kind of friendship with Clooney’s guarded character.

The American is not a thrill-a-minute “hitman looking to get out” movie, neither is it a completely sedate character piece. It falls slap-bang in between the two and shows a man who is constantly trying to look over his shoulder, around the next corner and as far into the future as he possibly can just to get through each day. There are moments of action and violence but they are as quickly ended as they are begun, Clooney’s character is someone who doesn’t need time to think as he removes any threat to his life.

The relationship between the American and Carla is well handled, it’s the woman who leads things forward while Clooney’s character plays some emotional catch-up even as he physically moves along with something likely to develop into a relationship.

Perhaps it’s something inherent in this kind of film but there’s always a sense, from the very beginning, that things aren’t necessarily going to end well. That feeling never goes away as the movie progresses with the viewer gradually being drawn in and sharing the mistrust and paranoia that Clooney’s character has. This is all done with a solid script and straightforward, though pretty, camerawork, no sleight of hand is used and no major emotional manipulation here. Corbijn is content to set things up and portray them as they are, with Clooney as the anchor of the piece easily carrying the whole thing with conviction and believability. A very good movie that is as unassuming as it is quietly impressive.


Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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