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The American

Last movie I saw: The American


If George Clooney weren't in this movie, it would not have earned such a wide release. Few movies that reach so many theaters bear a pace as slow as The American. The 60s-Italian tone of the poster is no accident: the film is pure Michelangelo Antonioni. Minimalist performances, equal focus on actor and setting, themes of loss and inhumanity; all those Antonioni tidbits you learn in film theory classes come through in The American. Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West makes a cameo at one point; fitting, because it's another clear influence. Long stretches without dialogue. Easily defined but solid characters. Well-composed shots as pretty as a picture. It's the Antonioni western.


The ads make this out as a Bourne/Taken kind of flick, but it's not an action movie by any stretch of the imagination. The closest comparison: only The Hurt Locker matches The American's mastery of suspense. Never does a scene pass without the fear that something terrible is about to happen, and someone is about to die. We see a large bay window, we expect a bullet to shatter the glass; we see two assassins chatting, we expect a quick draw showdown at any moment. Every frame is composed as an imbalance only action can right. Every silence is stretched until a piercing gunshot seems inevitable. Occasionally it's an accurate prediction, but there's much more tension than there is payoff; that will some unsatisfied, but that's the joy of suspense is in this reviewer's honest opinion. Like in The Hurt Locker, the thrill isn't the bomb going off or the gun firing, it's the ten minutes before that as the tension boils over. And, like The Hurt Locker, The American is a movie that can only be seen once. If you know when the gunshots are coming, gone is the tension, along with the fun.


If you go to this movie expecting two hours of George Clooney's velvet voice, you'll be very disappointed. He speaks about a total of fifty words from title to credits; he barely even smiles. But he does an excellent job playing a hitman very different from, say, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. No cocky monologues, no pre-kill wisecracks. Clooney quite deftly plays a subtly aggressive, dutiful ghost of a man; as much a modern samurai as can be without losing any humanity.


EDIT 9/8/10: Review edited just a bit for better flow.

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Taken on September 6, 2010