Lost In the Crevices – Brett’s Overlooked Film of the Week: “The American” (2010)
Is The American Worth A Second Look? Here’s Our Review
Smooth, calculated and refined—much like the character at its center—Anton Corbijn’s “The American” is one of the most underrated and undersold films of 2010. Up until its release, “The American” suffered a catastrophically miscalculated marketing campaign that proved to be detrimental to its success, and for that, moviegoers owe it its due diligence. As the film began to hit multiplexes, critics and movie fans were being sold a highfalutin, formulaic action thriller. Hollywood’s most talented hunk—George Clooney–was the lead man: cut, succinct and ready to kick your ass (all while dodging rolling motorcycles and surviving catastrophic car crashes, of course).
The movie came, passed, and as it sunk in, everyone in the theater began to realize they had been duped. The backlash became palpable, and the critics took their monumental displeasure to the Tomato Meter, their weekly articles and other websites harboring pesky aggregated scores. A collective “What?” was unmistakably audible. It was followed by something to the effect of: “you mean to tell us that this wasn’t the slam bang shoot ‘em up that was promised? There was substance? And, hell, there was even an abundance of admiral technical flare!” Fooled they were, one after the other.
Is it me, or are experienced critics and veteran moviegoers still deceived by the manipulative efforts of marketing executives to incessantly pander for our money? Do said executives really think misrepresenting a movie in its trailer will actually lead to a potential uptick in box office sales? Hold on a second. Did I really ask those questions?
When revisiting “The American,” there’s only one way correct way to view it, and that’s through the lens they told you not to use. Backdrop and atmosphere aside, “The American” is a slice of cinematic clockwork that explores the psychological, emotional and physical isolation of one man with affecting and absorbing detail.
Jack (Clooney) is a man whose brain functions like well-oiled machinery. It’s rigid and impenetrable. He can assemble a weapon of complex parts in seconds. His hands work in succinct tandem with his brain, and both of them are essential to his livelihood. In order to be an elite assassin, one must use both impeccably–without them, it would mean certain death.
The entirety of Jack’s existence can be forced to change in the blink of an eye. His profession makes him inherently nomadic; someone is always trailing him, and 98% of the time, they’re intent is to kill. The nature of the job has forced him into a state of ceaseless paranoia and, therefore, he’s constantly tuned in. He has lived this way for many years, and he’s more than accustomed to it. Things such as killing on a whim aren’t abnormal anymore.
Jack works for a man named Pavel. Their relationship is void of substance. 99% of the time, he is only a voice on the phone giving commands to the man with impeccable skill. Jack carries out his assignment in the Italian countryside in a small town perfectly fit to seclude him. It’s quaint and beautiful, but still full of danger.
He quickly befriends a local prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). At first it’s just sex, but it soon turns into something more. Jack seeks artificial companionship because a real life lover might end up dead. Nevertheless, the two develop a relationship, even after his warning “to not make friends.”
His assignment in the Italian countryside is to build a weapon for another high profile assassin. They meet outside of a local café to discuss specifics, and the rest of the film is centered on this act: the further Jack gets into his assignment, though, the wearier he becomes of motive. Why? Hunting and killing is a game of unending chess: Jack always has someone looking to put him on the business end of a bullet. Who can he trust as he continues his task? Is Clera on his side? Is his own boss his enemy? What about Mathilde, the woman he is building the weapon for? A man in Jack’s position is forced to constantly second guess himself. It’s just the nature of the job.
Jack is the axiomatic persona non grata. His existence is only known by a select few individuals, all of whom traverse the globe anonymously themselves. His profession is his existence; he’s forced to live his life, at all times, ten minutes ahead of his next thought. It’s the life of second, third and sometimes fourth guessing: a reality-induced game of chess where checkmates never end. Can you imagine what it must be like to live entirely, unequivocally off the grid? What an eerily fascinating, yet overwhelmingly somber lot in life to have acquired. In order to convey such hollow tones, Corbijn often frames Jack in seclusion; by placing him in a town that is too small to be significantly inhabited, the viewer gets a sense of just how magnified every mental and psychological precaution becomes.
Take, for example, the shot during one of Jack’s late-night visits to a local diner. As expected, he sits at a secluded table near a window in a far-off corner. Corbijn shoots him at a distance with an abundance of negative space to the right of the frame. It’s an absorbing shot that amplifies Jack’s all-encompassing loneliness. The approach here is multifunctional, though: since Jack sits in front of a large window pane, Corbijn is able to tease us easily with uneasy suspense.
“The American” may be bereft of the intense action sequences its trailer first promised, but it’s a film that asks inquisitive thematic questions. Beautifully filmed and impeccably acted, the film is more than worth revisiting during your next movie night. Corbijn–much like the carefully calibrated, day-to-day survival of his lead character–has constructed a meticulous and polished slice of movie-making. Perfect? No. But, not a single scene passes unnecessarily. The films’ seconds tick toward the only conclusion it could possibly move toward, completing a satisfying (if unsettling) circle.
How does a man void of possessions, human connection, love, or any other form of attachment maintain the inspiration necessary to stay the course through such a turbulent existence?
Perhaps that’s the point.