"The American"

A couple of weeks ago I had an appointment with my orthopedist for a reevaluation of my accursed broken arm. I meticulously laid out a plan for my Sick Day that consisted of the following activities: 1.) Sleep until the last possible moment; 2.) Go to my appointment; 3.) Celebrate or wail over my ability or inability to return to sports participation, depending on the diagnosis; 4.) Eat some tremendously greasy food court pizza; 5.) See “Get Low”, an independent comedy starring Robert Duvall and Bill Murray that inexplicably made a brief appearance at a local theater. These plans went out the window, however, when my Fort Worth, Texas suburb was attacked by one of the various hurricanes/tropical storms that have made landfall recently and the ensuing flash flood. My appointment was cancelled due (considering my doctor’s office is on the fourth floor of a large building) to what I can only assume was a tidal wave that blew through downtown Richland Hills. Dejected, I made my way toward the theater. In my haste, though, I neglected to strap my fictional canoe to the top of my truck, which was the only vehicle that would have made it possible for me to traverse the eight “Waterworld”-like miles between the theater and myself. Further dejected, I turned around and headed to a crummier, less progressive theater that apparently has the good fortune of high ground for a popcorn and candy lunch and a midday showing of “The American.” If only the movie was more interesting than the tale of how I got to it.

“The American” finds veteran hitman Jack (George Clooney) in quasi-hiding from a group of Swedes he’s wronged along the way. While in a small Italian village, he takes on the quintessential “one last job” which seems more dangerous than it worthwhile. Even as he becomes more and more engrossed with a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) and the prospect of a normal life, his paranoia grows. Jack hears footsteps at every turn and performs every action with painstaking, almost maniacal caution. Whether his paranoia is justified is the only question.

“The American” is a slow burn, an “action-thriller” that relies heavily on unspoken tension and the tight, focused facial expressions and body language on its star over actual action sequences. In fact, the action scenes are confined to the very beginning and very end, with the exception of one brief explosion of violence in the second act. There’s really not even much dialogue to “The American” which makes its perfectly reasonable 105 minute runtime seem to drag. It’s all about long, extended shots that more than once had me squirming a bit, dying for a scene change. There’s very little sound to this film as well which, when used correctly (“No Country For Old Men” for example), can work brilliantly to heighten the tension of the story. Here, though, it’s somewhat off-putting, keeping the audience at bay. All combined, these choices make it difficult to invest in the film and puts a hefty amount of pressure on the star to carry the film to the audience rather than bringing the audience into the film. Clooney’s performance is solid but not engrossing enough to elicit much of a connection from me or the rest of the crowd. That’s not a knock on Clooney, whose I am always quick to compliment. This just isn’t one of his absolute best performances and I think that’s what it would have taken to make this film resonate with me.

By no means do I mean to suggest that “The American” is a bad film. It contains some great shots and a good story that just isn’t fleshed out the way you’d hope. Even the worst Clooney character (which this isn’t) is better than a lot of actor’s best and there’s something to be said for the dramatic form of action movies in an age dominated by Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer. (Plus, what the heck else was I going to do while my neighborhood was swept away in a flood of Biblical proportions?) Quite simply, this movie is just extremely European, which should probably have been expected considering its director, writer, cast (excluding Clooney), and setting are all European. Duh. But you can see why “The American” is having a hard time finding an, ahem, American audience.

Grade: B
How is “hitman” not a Microsoft approved Word?