Clooney Shows Us That We Don’t Need the Glitz of Bond
George Clooney, Poalo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten
There was a time when movies about spies and assassins focused on the drama and suspense of the occupation. However, as practical and special effects became more affordable and realistic, filmmakers decided that explosions and automatic weaponry were the most entertaining way to spice up the genre. Thankfully, Anton Corbijn knows better, and he’s taken the spy thriller back to its roots.
George Clooney headlines as “Jack”: an assassin who’s forced to hide out in Italy after a botched job in Northern Europe blows his cover. Clooney is brilliant as always; he’s subtle enough to blend into a crowd, and he’s grizzled enough to show the stress of past jobs on every crease of his forehead. He’s not a man who’s happy with his profession; he does what he does because he’s skilled as an assassin, and the money is good.
As I was watching The American, I couldn’t help but lament how over-the-top and ridiculous spy films have become. When James Bond wants a good time, he checks into a glitzy hotel and goes to a cocktail party in a mansion made of ice. When Jack wants a good time, he heads to a deserted corner café to watch Sergio Leone movies. When Bond wants love, he seduces a gorgeous aristocrat into his bed. Jack, however, heads to a brothel for company. This is the life of a real assassin: low profile, lonely, and depressing.
Apart from Clooney, the rest of the cast is relatively unknown, and it’s better that way. Violante Placido plays a beautiful young prostitute who befriends Jack. She serves to anchor Clooney’s character and gives Jack a reason to survive (apart from simple self-preservation.) Thekla Reuten portrays one of Jack’s fellow assassins. She needs Jack’s assistance on one last job, and he happily uses his ingenuity and knowledge to help her prepare for the kill.
What really makes The American great is the nonstop suspense. From start to end, you feel fear for the lives of every character. What’s really remarkable is that less than two-dozen bullets are fired during the entire course of the film… and half of those are practice shots. My only regret is that things do manage to get slightly out of hand at the film’s climax.
All in all, The American manages to forego the action-film assassin clichés, and instead opts for a distinctly European, art-house aesthetic that would not be out of place in the 60’s or 70’s. The American is not an “action-packed, non-stop thrill ride.” Rather, it is the story of a man who is silently looking for something meaningful out of life.