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Rated 2.99 stars
by 363 people

ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Solemn and Slow
by Diana Saenger

The American opens with George Clooney staring into a fireplace as he sits on the floor of a remote cabin in a Swedish snow-covered mountainside. The naked woman lying on a bed with her arms around his neck paints a vivid picture of what just took place. Yet Clooney’s blank stare is only the first of many in a film that is solemn, terribly slow, and visually vapid. Director Anton Corbijn believes moviegoers will enjoy watching a film about a character we know practically nothing about and who does things that are never explained. My guess is they won’t.

Clooney fans are used to seeing him portray one displaced American character after another. He’s played a "psychic warrior" in Iraq (The Men Who Stare at Goats), an American military journalist in Berlin (The Good German), a CIA undercover operative in Beirut (Syriana) and more. Because fans acknowledge Clooney’s talent, we’re willing to wait for an explanation at of the bizarre outcome of this opening scene. Unfortunately, there’s little clarification of anything that happens in this film during its slightly under two-hour running time. The American is loosely based on the 1991 novel, A Very Private Gentleman, by British author Martin Booth. The idea to turn the book into a film began 10 years ago and would go through many hands before screenwriter Rowan Joffe produced a final draft.

Fleeing from Sweden, Jack or Edward (Clooney) -- depending on which name he gives out -- stops to make a call and is given a direction to drive towards. Apparently he’s not sure who he can trust, and even the mysterious caller seems to be a pawn in a much bigger game. So Jack finds the car he’s to secretly pick up, but then throws the cell phone left for him in the seat out the window and heads to a different town. It’s a bleak city in Italy where he takes a room in a multi –stepped villa -- perfect for chase scenes.

Jack takes a few days to suspiciously survey the town and its residents. He barely lets his guard down to spend a rather forceful tumble with a local prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). He finds a phone booth and checks in to get his assignment, which the audience does not hear. More days of canvassing and running from shadows take place until Jack befriends the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), who seems to have a lot of questions as well as insight about Jack. He tells Jack -- who claims to be a photographer of architecture, but as of yet has not even been seen with a camera -- that his hands are those of a mechanic of machines not of an artist. “Architecture has a history, but you live in the present,” the priest says.

Finally, Jack meets a woman (Thekla Reuten) in a public outdoor café which we can only assume is his next assignment, for they discuss gun parts. So maybe Jack is a specialist at building guns -- which he does for more days to come, followed by little interaction with anyone but Clara, (It surprises me how well she spoke English for a small town Italian prostitute.) She’s beginning to think of Jack more as a date than a “john.” She wants Jack to take her to America, and with little more than a few nights spent in hot sexual encounters, Jack decides he loves her and wants to spend “forever” with her.

Corbijn’s only previous feature film credit was the 2007 Control about British Punk band lead Ian Curtis. His idea was to fashion The American like a contemporary Western built around a simple character, with sparse dialogue and a wild Italian landscape.

However, Jack is anything but a simple character. He’s so complex we know nothing about him except he likes guns and hot girls. Corbijn sees Jack as going through a metamorphosis, but we can’t understand what he wants to become if we don’t know what he was or is. The lack of dialogue in the movie only adds more mystery to Jack’s glum stares and hesitant decisions about turning left or right. Regarding the location chosen as a wild Italian landscape, Corbijn calls Italy’s Abruzzo’s mountain region “a raw environment, an honest landscape of a type that is rarely seen in movies.” I think there’s a reason for that -- it’s unexciting and boring, just like The American.

Fans of 70s style European films with little dialogue might enjoy The American; others will be taking a risk.

(Released by Focus Features and rated “R” for violence, sexual content, and nudity.)

Review also posted at

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