The first thing you'll notice in “The American” is the stark lack of music. Don't go into this movie expecting a thriller with stock 16th note pulse-pounding soundtrack. Almost all of the film is done without musical accompaniment, providing an atmosphere that is both calming and creepy. This immediately sets it apart from every other movie you've seen this year, and its glacial pacing will give you either chills or brain-freeze, depending on your cinematic sensibilities.
Directed by Anton Corbijn and starring George Clooney, “The American” is the story of Jack, a mysterious assassin/custom-weapons-builder who finds himself on the run after a job gone haywire. He hides out in a remote Italian villa where he befriends Father Benedetto (a Catholic priest) and Clara (a prostitute). Both characters help Jack solidify his notions of sin and redemption. Guess which one he falls in love with.
The performances in the American are markedly subdued, with the most vibrant character being the lush Italian countryside. The rolling hills and idyllic streams provide ample contrast to the monochromatic lives that the characters find themselves in.
George Clooney is a compelling enough actor that I felt oddly mesmerized watching him meticulously assemble weapons alone in an apartment. Heck, he's so compelling that I would have been mesmerized watching him meticulously play with Lego blocks alone in an apartment.
The word “European” is being thrown around a lot to describe this movie. It certainly lacks the vanity and noise of a typical Hollywood movie, and I found “The American” to be a refreshingly original take on the spy tale. It makes you wonder if there are people watching “The American” over in Europe wishing that it contained more explosions and witty one liners.
In short, “The American” is an uncomplicated (but not naive) narrative that is carried by great performances and picturesque setting. Those expecting 16th notes will be sorely disappointed.
Audience Grievance Level: HIGH. A guy behind me kept impressing his friends by saying "I knew that would happen", a fourteen-year-old in front of me just wouldn't shut up, a group of people kept laughing at inappropriate moments, and someone nearby me smelled heavily of cologne.