Screen Rant's Kofi Outlaw reviews The American
The American is a title that should probably be taken with as sense of total irony, because George Clooney serving as leading man is probably the only "American" thing about this film. The director (Anton Corbijn) is from The Netherlands, the writers of both the source novel and screenplay based off of it (Martin Booth and Rowan Joffe respectively) both hail from the UK, and most of the co-stars sharing the screen with Clooney are also from across the pond, as they say.
Those going into The American expecting another Clooney action/thriller are going to walk away disappointed - those who are patient and can appreciate the aesthetic sensibilities of European cinema over the kinetic sensibilities of American cinema are going to be just fine.
Clooney plays the requisite assassin character - we never know his name for sure (Jack or Edward), he's paranoid, highly skilled at killing, lonely and tortured. As the film opens, Edward (the name used more often in the film) is seemingly trying to settle down and adopt the life of an average man, which of course translates into finding someone (the lovely Irina Björklund) to share his life with. But of course love is never a good idea when you are in the assassin business - as Edward is reminded the hard way.
With enemies close on his tail, Edward contacts his handler, Pavel (Johan Leysen) and is relocated to a remote town in Italy to await further instructions. In the town of Castel del Monte, Edward tries to remain invisible, but ultimately attracts the attention of the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and Clara (Violante Placido), a local prostitute who Edward bonds with. Both Father and Benedetto and Clara recognize Edward as a tortured sinner in need of saving, be it via God or love, which may inevitably be one and the same (as the movie suggests).
However, even as Edward finds comfort in his new surroundings, old habits are hard to kill. He accepts a job to fashion a high-powered custom-made sniper rifle (gun-making is Edward's specialty) for a lovely female assassin (Thekla Reuten), who is every bit the hardened professional that Edward... used to be.
From then on the story should be familiar: worlds collide and bullets fly, as the weary assassin tries to find love and redemption.
The American is not a fast-paced film, nor are there many instances of tension or suspense. The best words to describe the film would be "brooding" or "meditative," though the subject matter being brooded and/or meditated upon is by now so conventional (even cliched) that there's really not that much food for thought. Director Anton Corbijn's real strength is in visual aesthetic, and The American certain plays to that strength. There are so many shots in this film that would be perfect for Italian tourism ads, and even more shots that would serve as great pieces of still image art. Corbijn frames his shots with impressive spacial awareness, so that characters are transposed against twisting and spiraling old-world architecture in a way that would impress even the best professional photographers.
However, once you get over how pretty the film looks, you may find yourself anxious to see something happen - and this is where you will run into problems. The American is basically a collection of slow-paced and heavy-handed scenes, primarily featuring close shots of Clooney's face going through the spectrum of subdued "tortured soul" expressions, or wide shots of his body, which he cut into lean-muscle perfection for this role. Whenever you think the film might suddenly shift into high-gear, it simply settles back into its languid pace and (literally) fades into the next scene. When action does happen, it's over very quickly, presented very realistically and kept very understated without a hint of melodrama - some viewers won't consider it "action" at all. All in all I'd say there is one genuinely shocking moment, and one truly suspenseful one - and those two moments occur at either end of the movie.
Along with pretty scenery, there are some pretty and talented foreign actresses on hand to keep (at least us guys) engaged. Violante Placido is very charming as Clara, a spirited prostitute with a heart of gold - though the amount of gorgeous skin she shows off throughout the film does make it fairly hard to hate her. Thekla Reuten (who also played a sexy assassin in a famous episode of Lost) is equally captivating as a woman who might tear Edward's clothes or his head off at any given moment. When the ladies aren't on the screen, the scenes in which Clooney confers with Paolo Bonacelli's priest character attempt to be insightful and interesting, meditating on themes like morality, sin and love - but again, we've seen this kind of stuff in so many other hitman movies. It doesn't detract from the film, but it doesn't really enhance it either - like Clooney's character, we the audience are trapped in a sort of limbo.
In the end, The American is a film you should only see in theaters if you have a distinct love of the more artistic sensibilities of cinema (which I do, hence the three stars). If you're hoping for something to get your blood pumping, you may be in for a long nap instead.
Check out the trailer for the film to help you decide: