Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The American (and some very beautiful women)

Is there anything we won't forgive George Clooney on-screen? Con man, thief, lawyer, killer - it seems his charm can overcome just about any handicap the script attempts to throw at his character. And that's why he's the perfect choice for a role just like this, especially when you surround him with such beautiful women.

In his latest foray into cinema Clooney stars as an assassin chased from the warmth of a beautiful woman (Irina Björklund) and warm fireplace in Sweden. Retreating to the Italian countryside he attempts to lay low while accepting a job creating a custom made rifle for one beautiful woman (Thekla Reuten) as he throws his passions into the arms of another beautiful woman, a local prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). (Did I mention this film includes beautiful women?)

The American is an art film turned thriller. Some might be put-off by it's slow pace, including long stretches between action scenes, and unwillingness to force the action (at least early on), but they'd be missing the point.

Adapted from the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth screenwriter Rowan Joffé give us something close to a character study of man whom we barely get to know. Clooney's Jack is terse, hard, quiet, and hardly ever breaks a smile. We learn very little about our protagonist over the course of the film other than his obvious professional talents, quiet intellect, and love of butterflies.

What we are able to glean comes mostly from the flm's quiet scenes much more so than those depicting his skills as a gunsmith and killer. Whether it the aftermath of the shooting in Sweden, a walk through the woods with the town's local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), a pair of picnics with (you guessed it) beautiful women, or the lucky happenstance of running into Clara around town, each give us clues to how Jack perceives the world and what he's willing to kill for.

Also worth noting are the settings themselves which seem to mirror Clooney's character, particularly that of Castel del Monte, Abruzzo (where Jack has gone to lay low) - old and worn, attractive but stark, hollow and empty. Each is well-chosen, as is the beautiful oasis of a nearby stream where Jack retreats to but knows he can not remain.

The film does begin to stumble in its final act when it amps up the action and becomes much more predictable. Although the ending isn't what I'd call satisfying, it does fit the tone of the movie. Although Clooney is terrific, The American doesn't quite live up to its potential. It isn't a great film, but it is solid and works well both as an art film and a slow-building thriller. That, and it has some very beautiful women.

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