The American (Focus Features, 2010)
That’s a pissed-looking George Clooney with a gun on the cover, so The American must be a pulse-pounding spy thriller, right? Wrong, suckas! Director Anton Corbijn’s latest has all the firepower (and star power) you expect from an action blockbuster, but it’s a different kind of film, with a quiet, deliberate pace to match its distinctly European vibe. Does that make it a good film? Let’s take a look.
Synopsis: Alone among assassins, Jack is a master craftsman. When a job in Sweden ends more harshly than expected for this American abroad, he vows to his contact Larry that his next assignment will be his last. Jack reports to the Italian countryside, where he holes up in a small town and relishes being away from death for a spell. The assignment, as specified by a Belgian woman, Mathilde, is in the offing as a weapon is constructed. Surprising himself, Jack seeks out the friendship of local priest Father Benedetto and pursues romance with local woman Clara. But by stepping out of the shadows, Jack may be tempting fate.
Video: The American isn’t exactly a special effects bonanza, but it is a movie that oozes European atmosphere, from cobblestone walkways in ancient villas to sweeping landscapes, all beautifully captured by Martin Ruhe’s cinematography. This 2.35:1 VC-1 transfer does it all justice — if nothing else, The American on Blu-ray is one seriously good-looking film.
Audio: Again, what’s on offer here is very subtle; you aren’t going to hear much in the way of sound effects (or dialogue, or anything else, for that matter). But what you do hear is carefully mixed and balanced, and the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack does a stellar job of enhancing the movie’s visual atmosphere. Like Clooney’s suit on the poster, it isn’t showy, but it’s impeccably tailored.
Special Features: There isn’t a whole lot here, but what’s included makes sense. You get a chatty commentary track from Corbijn, about five minutes of deleted scenes (none of which add much of anything to the film), and a pleasant 11-minute featurette detailing the making of the film. Finally, the disc’s BD-Live capability includes directions for downloading a digital copy of the movie.
Bottom Line: I’m not a fan of the Michael Bay school of film, and all the souped-up explosions, shaky-cam effects, and jump cuts in modern action movies only leave me feeling fatigued, so I was looking forward to watching The American; we need more Hollywood releases that trust us with a quiet moment here and there, and know how to show us something without telling us what we’re supposed to see.
Well. The American is certainly quiet, but it doesn’t have a lot to show or to tell. It shuffles dejectedly between dull and pretentious, and you can’t help shaking the feeling that Clooney took the gig because it offered a European vacation and very little dialogue to memorize. He delivers a perfectly serviceable performance, but his character’s inner torment just isn’t all that interesting, especially when it’s surrounded with cliches (hey, it’s a hooker with a heart of gold!) and Corbijn can’t resist wedging in some thuddingly obvious symbolism (unintentional laughs, thy name is butterfly). It’s like someone’s vague outline of a ’60s European spy flick, but nobody bothered to fill it in — and when it’s over, all you’re left with is the desire to see the real thing. Points for trying, though — and if forced to choose between the high fructose corn of The A-Team and a grown-up thriller that trusts you to pay attention for 105 minutes of whispers and sad looks, you should go with the latter.
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