American, The (2010)

Director: Anton Corbijn
Plot: An assassin hides out in Italy for one last assignment.

Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Awards: -
Runtime: 105min
Rating: R21 for violence, sexual content and nudity.




Sometimes it takes a different (but not necessarily novel) way to approach an action-suspense film that would keep the genre from becoming stale and devoid of expression. Anton Corbijn, the director of this George Clooney picture recognizes and understands the value of differentness. Here is a film that defies many conventions of what an action-thriller should be. It could be a double-edged sword because mainstream viewers are entitled to be disappointed with the lack of ka-boom excitement in this film.

Starring a greying Clooney as Edward, a lone hitman who takes up one last job for a secretive boss, The American is a bleak look into the effects of years in the killing business on one man’s ability to cope psychologically with his seemingly cyclical life of hiding, running, and killing. He discovers Clara, a beautiful Italian prostitute who sees him as more than just a client. Their relationship develops but is often restrained by Edward’s general distrust of women whom he suspects are out to betray him.

Clooney’s performance is heavily subdued; there is minimal dialogue and he keeps his emotions to himself. He is often alone reading a book about butterflies or working on modifying a weapon. There is near zero opportunity in this film for him to express his emotions. Interaction is sparse, and the only meaningful relationship is between him and Clara. To his credit, Clooney pulls off his role quite well; there is not a scene in the film that shows him flaunting his star power, yet every scene of his holds your attention.

The American could be seen as a contemporary take on old spaghetti Westerns. In an early scene in Corbijn’s film, Edward arrives in a sparse Italian town and is “greeted” by its (few) inhabitants who stare at him with suspicion – a homage to Leone’s Dollars films. And if that is not explicit enough, later on in the film, it features a shot of a television screen showing the prelude to the infamous family massacre scene in Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.

Action sequences are very few, and in between them, it is all about the waiting and anticipation for something to happen. When the action does occur, it is sudden and swift. This is best exemplified in the “showdown” sequence between Edward and the man out to kill him. The building of suspense and the Hitchcockian locational settings used by Corbijn are excellent, be it a static shot of Clooney alone in a eerily quiet dining house, or tracking shots of him moving up and down flights of stairs in narrow passageways lighted with orange streetlamps.

The American is a unique action-suspense picture that is likely to be appreciated by audiences who are attracted to the mechanics of filmmaking i.e. how and why films are made in a particular style or way. It is definitely short on entertainment value, but The American’s slow, deliberate style is a refreshing change of pace from the kineticism of modern actioners.


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