The American: Re-watch
I wish there was more that I could do in order to get The American widely recognized as the masterpiece that it is. For now, it seems that the best I can manage is to continue singing its praises and including it in my top list and hoping for the best. Maybe some time down the road people will be more open to it, with its bare narrative and deliberate pacing and embrace it for all of its beautiful glory.
Anton Corbijn’s breathtaking throwback to European thrillers of the ’60s and ’70s, like Le Samourai and The Conformist, The American follows a reserved assassin as he grapples with the path his life has led him down while in Italy for one final job. The absolutely gorgeous cinematography from Martin Ruhe highlights the beauty of the location while also providing crisp images for the interior shots and even the softer moments, framing George Clooney’s mysterious Jack as an isolated and very lonely figure. While here he meets Clara, played by Violante Placido, a beautiful prostitute who could be the key to unlocking his cold exterior.
Jack is a man of contradictions, within the world, his profession and himself. He has clearly lived his life so far as a man without any commitments to other people and is told by his employer to make sure he continues with that belief, yet throughout the film his emotional attachment to Clara strengthens and he converses often with a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli). It’s mostly left up to the viewer to determine whether Jack is slipping or trying to change his ways, and Clooney portrays the man with just the right amount of ambiguity to make either interpretation an accurate one. Is he losing his skill or is every step he makes as a person just as deliberate as his precision when performing his job?
In a lot of ways, the film itself is as much a contradiction as its main character is. We get the serene beauty of the Italian countryside, along with the paranoia that infiltrates every moment of Jack’s existence after a life of working in his chosen field. After the gut punch of an opener, in every glance we can see the fear of death in his eyes but Clooney wisely manages to never overplay any emotion in a way that would betray his character. The American is a very quiet picture, expertly done by Corbijn in a way that builds mood as opposed to narrative, and Clooney is at the stage in his career where his casting in the lead role was absolute perfection.