DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
AMERICAN, THE (director: Anton Corbijn; screenwriters: Rowan Joffe/from the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth; cinematographer: Martin Ruhe; editor: Andrew Hulme; music: Herbert Grönemeyer; cast: George Clooney (Jack/Edward/Mr. Butterfly), Irina Björklund (Ingrid), Paolo Bonacelli (Father Benedetto), Thekla Reuten (Mathilde), Violante Placido (Clara), Johan Leysen (Pavel), Filippo Timi (Fabio); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Anne Carey/Jill Green/George Clooney/Grant Heslov/Ann Wingate; Focus Features; 2010-USA/UK-in English/Italian with English subtitles)

 
"Gripping and challenging character study that's filmed as a Euro-thriller."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Holland-born filmmaker Anton Corbijn ("Control") directs this gripping and challenging character study that's filmed as a Euro-thriller. It's based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. Rowan Joffe is the screenwriter, who purposely never gives us the words to know what our world-weary protagonist is thinking and that might or might not be a miscalculation depending how the viewer takes to such an uncompromised action pic with hardly any action but lots of quiet reflection from its main character. The story never goes past being a chilling mood piece about a silent assassin who might be on the list of endangered species, and who remains safe as long as he stops being human.

It's an arthouse thriller with sparse dialogue about a steely-eyed aging killer-for-hire who also doubles as a mechanical whiz specializing in putting together custom-made weapons for odd jobs in which he gets well-paid for such dangerous criminal work. The secretive loner, with a sweet-tooth for women, goes by the name of either Jack or Edward (George Clooney), and receives his marching orders from the mysterious Pavel (Johan Leysen).

Corbijn's past work as a photographer explains the stunning picturesque landscapes (the snowy fields of Sweden and the winding roads of hilly Italy), which keeps the viewer's interest from lagging during the down times when the story stagnates and when there are too many long closeups of a brooding Clooney instead of any action.

In the snowy rural Swedish landscape a sniper takes a shot at Jack while he's walking in the snowy country fields with his innocent Swedish lover. Jack eliminates the sniper and his partner, and then kills his girlfriend even though she didn't set him up. Returning to Rome, Jack's handler Pavel orders him to hole up in the remote medieval village of Castelvecchio in the Pesaro region and wait for further instructions. Jack expresses concern to Pavel of how the Swedes knew where he was, but is given no answer. Not trusting anyone and certain he's being stalked, Jack instinctively moves to another village. His samurai game face reminds one of Alain Delon's assassin in Jean-Pierre Melville's "Le Samourai."

The Italian speaking American, Jack, now poses as a photographer and calls himself Edward, as he meets two friendly characters in the Italian village who seem more like symbols than real people: a kindly Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) who once sired a bastard child and believes the Americano is a sinner worth saving and a local prostitute from the bordello with a heart of gold named Clara (Violante Placido). The lonely Edward is her client and after some serious sex begins a love affair with the sweet hooker, while waiting for his contact, that brings out his human side. Clara calls him Mr. Butterfly because of the tattoo on his back.

The third character of importance in the village is his fellow assassin Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who is ordering a specialty high-powered rifle from him that he will build in his room. Her motivations for the weapon are never made clear. The paranoid Jack is convinced that someone for some reason is after him and he now wishes to only finish this last job and retire (Where have we heard that one before?).

That Clooney gives an intelligent, rewarding performance is a given. Unfortunately everyone else in the film feels as if they're artificial and that the story seems more of a film school treatment than a believable real life story, as this good looking film comes down from the hills onto the village cobblestones where the pedestrians walk without letting us know what's on its mind--except to let us know that "Americans don't care about history, they just want to live in the present." Though the story is excellently crafted, it's far from clear and hardly makes much sense. I went with it no matter where it went and could live with it despite its faults because it brought to the action pic genre something old that it freshened up with brain over brawn and I think it accomplished that in a muted but entertaining way.

REVIEWED ON 9/1/2010       GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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