George Clooney Gives A Performance That Commands Respect
"The American" is perhaps one of Clooney's most introspective films, he's ever made. Unlike George Clooney's other films where he often plays the suave fast talking "Mr. Cool" guy, it seems he takes on another role that rivals his previous great performance in "Up in the Air." "The American" tells the story of a lone assassin that hides out in the depths of Italy for one last assignment. Tormented with a conflicted past, and the inability to get close to anyone, due to the nature of his job. Needless to say, this causes Clooney's character, Jack, to run into a deep eerie feeling of internal isolation. Isolation that causes the viewer to sympathize with his character, regardless of his action. I've never seen it pulled off so masterfully since Robert DeNiro's modern classic, "Taxi Driver." Where both protagonists are forced to do terrible things that would make an ordinary society shun them but the way the story is set up, you can't help but relate to their plight. Truly, one of George Clooney's finest hours.
Although one could draw some comparisons to how Clooney approached this role with his performance in "Up in the Air"; how they're both characters that are content in life, yet both are isolated and alone. However, what sets them apart is that unlike "Up in the Air", George doesn't play a fast talking "Mr. Cool" guy that doesn't realize how empty and lonely his life truly is. No, he plays a man that truly is isolated and alone, and he knows it. Constantly pushing away any emotional entanglements, as the nature of his job doesn't allow anyone to get close to him. In fact, the only close relationship he has is a prostitute, named Clara (Violante Placido), that he meets to satisfy his sexual urges from time to time. However, he even pushes her away too. In one scene where she seductively flirts with him after one of their sessions, he coyly responds to her with a blunt remark saying, "Look I know you have to pretend and put on this act in front of your clients, but you don't have to ever worry about that with me. I'm just a guy trying receive pleasure, not to give it." That remark right there summarizes how much our main character tries to push people away. Yet she responds, "What if I'm not pretending?" With that one simple remark, that's where are real story begins.
As she somehow ends up getting closer to Jack, this forces him to reevaluate his life. Wondering if staying alive is worth the several years of loneliness and isolation. After all, he's been a trained assassin for years and if he were to quit, it would anger a lot of people within the criminal underworld. However, the flashbacks of how he was forced to murder last girl friend, when she accidentally found out about his job, constantly haunts him. As he starts to wonder after how dangerously close Clara is getting to him...if he'll have to do the same thing to her as well. Needless to say, this causes Jack to want to get out of the assassination business to be with her, as he falls more in love with Clara. The only problem is...will his boss be just as understanding?
Indeed, "The American" has a lot of things going for it, as it features a lot of intriguing story premises and aspects to make it highly interesting. Plus, it never hurts to have a brilliant performance by George Clooney in it either. I must say, Anton Corbijn does a wonderful job orchestrating a movie that invokes both a sense of grounded reality with internal conflict within the main protagonist himself. Something that as many movie fans will tell you, comes off rather beautifully when executed properly (i.e. "Taxi Driver" or "Raging Bull"). Unfortunately, that's not to say that this is anywhere near as being a perfect movie like those two classic Scorsese films, as there was a few minor flaws that keep it from reaching that level.
One obviously being the relationship with his ex-deceased girl friend, who he was forced to murder. Very little if any information is ever given out about her in this film, as she's only in it for about ten minutes around the beginning before Jack shoots her. And even then, the flashbacks don't really tell you much about her either. Which makes it sad, as she plays a primary reason why Jack wants to try to get out of the business. In fact, the only thing that really is confirmed about her is that she was close enough to have an intimate relationship with him, but how do we know that for sure? She could have been another prostitute that Jack paid to have frequent sexual favors with, and Jack might have made the mistake of harboring feelings for her, as it's left up to the viewer's interpretation. Sadly, this is one part of the story, I wished they would have elaborated on a bit more, as it seems to play a core part of who Jack is, but they just don't go over it as thoroughly as one would hope.
Another gripe I have about this movie is that it's a bit too subtle with it's character development and internal conflict. Not that it's a bad thing, but it won't be as clear to the average movie goer, who isn't following the body language and facial expressions of the main character, along with tone of the movie. Something that even "Up in the Air" struggled with but at least that had an internal monologue by George Clooney, so even the most average movie goer could understand the internal conflict within the main character himself. Where as "The American", there is no internal monologue. Heck, outside of Jack's nightmares about his dead girl friend, you can hardly tell how he's feeling unless you read into his body language and facial expressions like I did. Which is rather sad, as I thought this movie had the makings of being possibly being another great film with a character that has a strong internal conflict.
Overall, I wouldn't say "The American" is a bad film by any means, as it was actually quite entertaining. The action sequences for the movie were highly realistic and well choreographed. Although I would hardly call this an action movie, as "The American" probably has as much action in it as a film like "Fargo" or "Pulp Fiction." Sure, there's some, but its not the focal point of the movie.
However, as I said earlier, George Clooney gives a great performance in this film. Proving once again why he's one of Hollywood's best actors out there. You add that with a great premise, and you have yourself "The American." Sure, it's nowhere near as good as it could have been, but it's still good enough to be deemed perhaps one of the most interesting films of the year. "The American" earns a solid three and a half out of four. Definitely a must see for any movie fan out there.