Directed by Anton Corbijn. Screenplay by Rowan Joffe. Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, Paolo Bonacelli, Johan Leysen. 102 min.
Much of the internet chatter about The American has complained that the ads were deceptive, promising a slam-bang action thriller. The actual movie is entertaining enough, and thrilling in a different way. It’s a bit of a James Bond film, just really quiet and without any witty quips. While George Clooney’s rakish charm may be on cool European mode here, he still inspires the envy of men who want to be him and women who want to be with him. Like a good spy should.
The movie even opens with a Bond-ish cold open. Clooney’s character Jack is in a remote cabin in Sweden with, of course, a gorgeous woman in bed. The next morning they are walking through the snow when Jack, in the nick of time, suspects they’re being watched. In fact, they’re being hunted and Jack quickly disposes of the enemy. Evidently, Jack’s lone wolf persona is honed from years of people wanting to kill him.
Jack flees to Rome and calls Pavel (Johan Leysen), presumably his boss, who gives him a cellphone, a hideout, and “one last job.” Jack’s main expertise lies in crafting weaponry and a sexy assassin (Thekla Reuten) needs a custom rifle. Their meeting in a café is appropriately cool and precise, their dialogue only discussing the job and the specs. Too suspicious of being followed, Jack soon ditches the cellphone and finds his own hideout in the medieval hill town of Castel del Monte.
When not exercising his lean physique (ladies, this is for you) and moodily drinking coffee, he frequents the local bordello and the devastatingly beautiful Clara (Violante Placido—gentlemen, this is for you). Soon they’re meeting for dinner and Jack starts to see a future with her. Or maybe I presumed that this crosses his mind. It’s hard to tell what Jack’s thinking at any given time and I suppose that’s sort of the point. Jack asks Clara to come away with him very late in the story and although her charms are considerable, I found it hard to buy that he wouldn’t escape without her.
The movie is as cool as Jack is stoic and its serene mood actually makes the few jolts that do come along stand out. The American is certainly not a barrel of laughs but is compelling enough. Violante Placido (a great, oxymoronic name) is breathtaking. And Castel del Monte, which Wikipedia tells me has a population of 463, should enjoy a jump in tourism after its beauty and charm have been so appealingly portrayed here.