Directed by Anton Corbijn
Written by Rowan Joffe, from a novel by Martin Booth
Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Johan Leysen, Paolo Bonacelli
George Clooney is the perfect combination of film star looks and acting chops, and is not afraid to do serious movies without regard to his image. He’s been making a series of moderate budget films that allow him to stretch himself. The results have included such films as Syriana,
Good Night and Good Luck, The Good German, The Men Who Stared at Goats, and The American.
In The American, Clooney plays Jack. In the opening scene, he’s with his girlfriend in Sweden, when all hell breaks loose. After the shocking events there, he flees to Italy, where he contacts Pavel (Johan Leysen), asking for a place to lie low. Pavel sends him to a small town in Abbuzzo, but Jack, paranoid to a fault (and, we discover, for good reason), goes to a second small town and vanishes even from Jack. He agrees to help in if Jack – whose talents include manufacturing custom-made weapons – does one final job, designing a gun for Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). He also develops a wary friendship with a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido) and the town’s priest (Paolo Bonacelli).
This is not an action film, despite its spies and double crosses. It concentrates on Jack’s (quite justified) paranoia. People are out to get him, and he’s not sure he can trust anyone. The town he hides out in is a maze of crooked streets and tight alleyways, where anyone can hide, and the film makes the most of the location.
Clooney, of course is excellent. He’s good at portraying his fear even without dialog. He makes even the most innocuous thing potentially sinister.
The film actually did adequately at the box office, making back its costs and getting some good reviews. But it was overlooked at awards time and seems to be overshadowed by other movies. Perhaps the title was the problem: it seems to promise something quite different from what it is, though it is perfectly reasonable, since everyone in the small town refers to Clooney as “The American.”
This was director Anton Corbijn’s first dramatic feature after a background as a still photographer and the director of some short documentaries. He is a filmmaker to watch.