Label: Alliance (Canada) / Region: 1 (NTSC) / Released: December 28, 2010
Genre: Suspense / Thriller
Synopsis: A gunsmith accepts one final contract before calling it quits.
Special Features: Audio Commentary by director Anton Corbijn / Deleted Scenes / Featurette: “Journey to Redemption: The Making of The American”
Martin Booth’s novel “A Very Private Gentleman” is reformulated into a minimalist western by director Anton Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffee, where a stranger named jack (George Clooney) wanders into an isolated town and goes through a process of self-analysis, questioning his career as a gunsmith / hired killer.
As is often the case with tales of lonely men doing unspeakable work behind a contrived veil of normalcy, loneliness mandates some form of human comfort, which Jack manages to receive from local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido). He also makes a point of socializing with a wise priest who suspects Jack is a troubled man looking for redemption.
Jack’s real purpose in a small mountain village is to sit and wait for instructions for what’s supposed to be his last job, since a band of angry Swedes are trying to kill him for reasons never revealed in Joffe’s script. The final gig is to craft a compact gun for a client, Mathilde (Tekla Reuten), which he does, but then delays delivery because he seems desperate to enjoy a brief fling with Clara, until a detail may reveal her to be another potential danger.
With the exception of the priest, no one can be trusted, and Jack’s becoming weary of living like a shadow with a gun always close by.
Visually, Corbijn’s film is a luscious mix of portraiture and pastel colours, amber-tinted fall leaves, and Clooney’s been outfitted with designer clothes and sunglasses that transform the American actor into a Marcello Mastroianni figure – minus a sense of humour.
The chief problem with The American is it’s too minimalist. In a Sergio Leone western, the Man with No Name is usually one of several figures who track, kill, or change alliances, moving through towns and experiencing dangerous adventures.
Jack is stuck juggling a pushy boss, a client, a priest, and a love interest, but he stays in one locale, and because he must maintain a low profile, he doesn’t do much – a problem Corbijn tries to fix with elegantly composed shots and a handful of suspenseful montages, but the film’s trailer completely falsely sells the film as a kinetic actioner; much like the French thriller Spybound / Agents secrets (2004), dialogue and relationships are reduced to the bare minimum, so there’s little depth to any of the characters.
The exceptions, perhaps, are Clara, trapped in a wasteful life in a town that scorns her. There’s also the priest, who had an affair years ago and fathered a bastard child whom Jack meets, but the secret really serves no purpose save for making the priest a man who understands the psychological trauma in harboring dark secrets – a clichéd archetype in better films such as Odd Man Out (1947), or rendered more interminable in clunkers like Prayer for the Dying (1987).
The film’s development towards the finale is also quite slow. Most of the scenes just follow Jack moving around town, gathering the sights, buying good, and testing out the gun before the client’s arrival, and there are a few spots where the drama sags before a chase scene or montage pops up.
Unlike Spybound. the script is linear and actually makes sense, but it’s such a cold film that it only works as a procedural film, much in the way The Day of the Jackal (1973) dealt with icy characters from opposing sides eventually converging in a climax. Clooney’s very good, but his character remains an archetype with little depth or sympathy, making the finale feel more perfunctory than redemptive.
The DVD’s deleted scenes contain scene trims – one involving the priest’s son is a silly red herring, and makes no sense – and there’s a standard making-of featurette, and an audio commentary with director Corbijn.
© 2011 Mark R. Hasan
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