Big Screen Peter: The American

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 52 views 


Editor’s note: Peter Lewis has agreed to use whatever it is you call his writing style to provide some measure of analysis to those folks who still go to a theater to see a movie. Enjoy.

review by Peter Lewis

As I sat in the darkened theater watching “The American” unfold, I was reminded of a Graham Greene novel. Of course, the film is based on a novel (“A Very Private Gentleman”) by another British writer, Martin Booth. Having never had the pleasure of reading the novel nor anything else by the esteemed Booth, I can’t really make a first hand comparison. Instead, I must point to Greene. All the elements seemed to be in place: foreign locale, a man subjugating himself to an imposed loneliness and struggling with morality. On top of that, the film was shot with a sense of beautiful restraint that was also reminiscent of Greene’s work.

While the film certainly sets up to include run-of-the-mill action sequences and a more traditional suspense narrative tack, director Anton Corbijn never falls into the cliched trappings of the genre. Instead, the film focuses on the emotional struggles of the eponymous American, played admirably by George Clooney.

All too often directors are content to skimp on an examination of human interaction in favor of glibness or glossy gun battles. So while Corbijn’s direction is somewhat laborious at times, even that seemingly negative aspect of the film is refreshing in its own way. Corbijn is unafraid to present the audience with sustained silences in his effort to create a singular atmosphere.

In the early portions of the film, Jack (Clooney) is forced to take refuge in a small Italian village. The specifics for why Jack is never directly broached, though his career as an assassin has undoubtedly earned him enemies.

With a small supporting cast, Clooney is undoubtedly the center of the film. His precarious profession has left him emotionally stunted, though a charitable spirit is evident despite his taciturn nature. Living in a small village magnifies this seeming emptiness and lack of emotional connection for Jack. No longer a young man, he not only questions the nature of his profession, but what the future might hold for him. The bulk of the film is spent in examination of his precarious situation: never quite knowing whom to trust, yet aching for a real connection to another person.

The pacing of the film is methodical, relying on an economy of words and lovingly shot scenes of the Italian countryside. When Jack happens into a dialogue, it is inevitably short. The role of Jack doesn’t rely on dramatic monologues or witty banter, instead the interactions are terse, groping stabs. Clooney’s body language is expressive and true.

“The American” is certainly disjointed at times, but it is fearless in its exploration of human emotions and their motives. It is a thriller in the truest sense: it offers sustained suspense and titillates in its inquest into the human spirit. Like its title character, “The American” is more beauty than brawn.

The American is playing at the Carmike 14 and the Malco Cinema 12 in Fort Smith, and the Malco Van Buren Cinema. Link here for time and ticket info.

Feel free to contact Peter Lewis at
[email protected]

You can also track Peter at his Web site.