Don't fall under the impression that Anton Corbijn's The American, starring George Clooney, is a Jason Bourne-esque thriller, with lots of killing, explosions, car chases, etc. In fact, it is quite the opposite of the fast paced, in-your-face assassin films that we have become accustomed to. The film opens with a beautiful, snow-coated landscape, containing a cabin that is inhabited by Jack (Clooney) and his lover. Within minutes, they are assaulted, presumably in an attempt to take out Jack, but he takes care of the problem, and makes it look easy. In an anti-Clooney decision, he takes out his lover, who is now at witness, as well. He then travels to Italy, where the rest of the film is located. As an assassin, most would think the reason he has traveled to such a distant location would be, of course, to assassinate. Instead, he has been asked to build a customized gun for another talented professional. Having never seen an automatic rifle being built before, it was fascinating to watch Jack assemble it in such a way that one could argue that it is a form of art. It is clear he has a lot of passion for his profession, and I have probably learned more about Clooney's character watching him do this in mere silence, that any other scene in the film.
Jack's location is suddenly discovered, presumably by those connected to the men from the opening scene, and he becomes increasingly paranoid. When he is not building the rifle, he visits his favorite prostitute Clara, played by Violante Placido. The relationship grows and grows over time, and Jack (or Edward, as he is known to Clara) becomes torn as he needs to choose the bloody career or the girl. For the cliched Pretty Woman love story, Clooney and Placido pull it off surprisingly well, as both are excellent actors and have great chemistry on the screen. In another it's-been-done-before turn, Jack needs to pull off one last job before going into exile from his "sinful" life. Being located in Italy and constantly surrounded by symbols of Jesus Christ and Christianity, it is inevitable that morality also becomes a theme here. The ironic thing is Jack seems to feel very small, if any regard for those he has put down in the past for the sake of making a living. It is (arguably) only his love for Clara that changes his mind.
The film had a box office opening of $16.5 million, with a budget of $20 million, which is unfortunate. Some might argue that The American is a cinematic advertisement, bought to you by Italy. Corbijn takes a lot of time showing off the beauty of the country, but he does so in a way that it blends in with the actual storyline very well, so that it doesn't feel dragged. However, that isn't to say that movie isn't slow paced, because it definitely is, as there is a considerable lack of action. This is probably where most of the audience regrettably seemed to feel distant. The film felt very much felt like a foreign love story, and it sort of is, as lots of the dialogue is in Italian. Only they threw in a few action pieces to keep the audience on their toes. The story does have a lot of "seen it before" moments, but Corbijn is talented enough to give it to us in a way that it feels fresh and not withered. My biggest problem with the film is we really don't learn anything about Jack as a person, other than the fact that he has an above average knowledge of butterflies and using guns. He rarely speaks about himself, and when he does it is usually in the form of a riddle, and we are still kept in the dark. If it weren't for Clara's trust in him, I wouldn't have felt much sympathy for him throughout the film (I still didn't, really). The film does an excellent job of convincing us of a believable story. It just doesn't do a good job convincing us why we should care. If you do choose to watch this movie (I say go for it), I would highly recommend watching it in high definition to get the most out of the beauty that is Italy as you can.