*** (out of 5)
September 1, 2010
George Clooney as JACK
Violante Placido as CLARA
Thekla Reuten as MATHILDA
Paolo Bonacelli as FATHER BENEDETTO
Irina Björklund as INGRID
Studio: Focus Features
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There are several things in this world that indicate that fall is on its way and the cold of winter is just around the corner. There’s a chill in the evening air. The nights start getting longer. And George Clooney comes out with a movie in the hopes of getting another Oscar. A Clint Eastwood drama can’t be far around the corner.
“The American” is Clooney’s latest stab at that coveted golden statuette, in which he plays an assassin who is sent from a botched job to Rome so he can build a weapon. While he’s in Rome, he becomes a regular of a local prostitute, and they start a relationship outside of their normal channels. Knowing that he wants to get out of the assassin game, he becomes increasingly paranoid of the people he’s dealing with, and he tries to finish the job while looking over his shoulder.
This film is typical of a pitch for award season, reminding me of other recent early attempts like “We Own the Night” and “Gone Baby Gone.” It’s a grown up movie that’s a slow burn. While it has some nice action moments, it’s hardly a typical assassin picture. Rather, it’s a slow character study of a man who wants to leave the profession he does so well.
In this sense, “The American” can be its own worst enemy. There are many moments in the film where things drag, and we aren’t offered relief save for the pretty breathtaking scenery of the locations.
Clooney carries the role and the film itself, which is to be expected since he’s on screen more than 90 percent of the time. It’s a more subtle character than we’ve seen in the past. He’s not just giving us a version of Dr. Ross from “E.R.” or Ryan Bingham from “Up In the Air.” Clooney manages a vulnerability in his role, but it’s not as deep as he’d like it to be.
I give the man credit for stretching outside of his stock character, though his slick coolness keeps him grounded into that type. It’s not as good of an acting job as we saw in “Syriana,” but it’s not bad. He just may have internalized things too well.
For as deep as the picture tries to be, it’s pretty routine, and any avid film watcher should be able to figure out everything that’s going to happen a few steps ahead. Like this summer’s “Inception,” it has the veneer of being well crafted but really is nothing more than a piece of formula fiction. After all, the whole hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold story has been done a ridiculous number of times.
I can’t say that I was bored in “The American,” nor that the film is a waste of time. It was interesting enough, and it kept my attention. The cinematography is very nice, and that helps smooth things out a bit.
If you’re a fan of international thrillers, this isn’t a bad bet. It’s a better film than recent movies like “The International” or the pretty awful “Assassins.” But as early award bait, “The American” is going to be utterly forgettable. But if you don’t catch it in the theaters, it’s something you could watch on DVD or swerve into it on cable some time in the next couple years and enjoy.