George Clooney follows in the footsteps of Hollywood stars like Tilda Swinton in this excursion into the realms of European Art house cinema. He plays Edward (but also uses the name Jack), a highly trained assassin and gun expert. After some of his enemies manage to track him down in Sweden he escapes to Italy, and hides out in the remote village of Castel del Monte, whilst making a bespoke gun for the mysterious Mathilde (Reuten). Scared that the Swedes might track him down, and falling for local prostitute Clara (Placido), Edward tells his boss (Johan Leysen) that he wishes to retire.
Edwards’ labeling by the residents of Castel del Monte as ‘The American’ echoes around the film and is not just a reference to the plot, but Clooney’s own appearance as an American star in this European film. At one point the famous Italian song ‘Tu vuò fà l’americano’ is heard in the background as Edward drinks in a café, with this satirical song about Americanisation it seems that director Anton Corbjin is poking fun at the situation he finds himself in with his American star, that will clearly obtain his film a much wider audience.
The film has been marketed with a poster campaign of Clooney with gun, but The American is not a high octane thriller, and is very much a slow burner, and a beautiful and entrancing film to watch. With held wide shots of Italian crampt hillside towns is its obvious Corbijn was primarily a photographer before turning to directing, as he has a breathtaking eye for shot composition. As Edward visits a river hideaway with Mathilde and later Clara, Corbjin’s eye for beauty in nature also comes across, from the rising fog over the river to nature close ups which add to the films calm moments, and contrast with Edward’s internal worries.
The film is light on dialogue, and a lot of the 104 minutes is made up of nothing more than characters walking around. However this combines with some great moments of tension, as Edward is constantly fearful that someone is hiding, ready to kill him, around every corner. Clooney plays the character well, as ever playing the gun toting hero with the perfect amount of charm and bravado, but shows he can also display Edward’s gentler side, obsessed with butterflies (an aria from Madame Butterfly even graces the soundtrack) and slowly falling in love. For obsessive fans there’s also a rarity with a Clooney sex scene. He seems to have accepted that his roles will now be to play the retiree and he does so well, and in the films closing scene Clooney gives a great and astonishingly expressive performance.
The American provides a great combination of idyllic beauty and tense plot, but it is certainly not an action packed thriller, so don’t go expecting to see Clooney knock off a string off baddies. Its interesting to see Clooney stray from his usual role though, and Anton Corbijn’s direction makes the film a visual joy and well worth a watch.