is an unusual film. It takes a familiar movie framework, the spy thriller, and gives us something we don’t expect. Unlike the Jason Bourne
films that exemplify the genre, there is little quick-cut action and even less sophisticated spy talk for the protagonist to dazzle us with. Instead of taking on an assassination mission, The American’s
Jack spends the length of a calm film studiously constructing a weapon, artfully piecing together a lethal sniper rifle that he hopes never to fire. More than a Bourne film, The American
is like a subdued, emotionally distant cousin to Luc Besson’s Leon
, and all we have to sustain us through the film is the beauty of the European countryside and the gravity of George Clooney’s performance.
It’s bizarre–and unsettling–to watch Clooney in The American
. He looks so much like the handsome, charming man we expect from Ocean’s 11
and Up in the Air
. He’s mostly wearing his typical look–hair cropped a bit shorter, but still salt-and-pepper. Yet it’s amazing what difference a smile makes. Without that disarming charmer grin, Clooney in The American
is cold and aloof, and it’s apparent early that the film will rest heavily on his acting. He certainly delivers, crafting a hunted killer who is cautious (paranoid) and troubled (tormented). Jack is never at ease, eyes always roaming for the assassin who could be lurking around any corner. The cinematography expertly keeps up, exploiting the twisted walkways and narrow European streets to heighten the suspense of looming attack.
What Jack yearns for more than anything is companionship, and the film ends just as this plot thread is really developing. Director Anton Corbijn clearly focused on Jack’s tormented soul, and spends much of the film exposing the audience to the nerve-racking life on the edge that Jack lives. The film cultivates a powerful atmosphere, but viewing it is an experience that mimics Jack’s own hollow existence. Many films give us endings that leave us yearning for more, but the best, like No Country for Old Men
, deliver a satisfying experience until those final moments. The American
, too, leaves us wanting more, but it’s lean on satisfaction.
That’s the point, of course. There is no satisfaction for Jack in the life he has lived, even as he tries to leave it behind. The methodical construction of a deadly weapon focuses the film, and Clooney’s performance carries a power that lends The American
a heavy sense of reality. Perhaps that’s why it feels all the more unsatisfying as the inevitable ending plays out and the credits roll. Does reality have to be so predictable and depressing?