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Review: The American

Simon Pitt | Film | Monday 18th March 2013

I watched the George Clooney assassin romp, The American the other day. It is awful.

I'm considering ending the review there, because there's not much more to say about this film. It is absolutely dire. Slow, tedious and predicable. It's the sort of film that you could watch at 16x speed and wonder why everyone is walking so slowly. No doubt it won some award at Cannes for "best slow panning shot over Italy" or "longest pause in the middle of a slow bit". But unless you're the Italian tourist board, or a particular fan of car adverts, there's little to see here.

George Clooney plays Jack, in what can only be described as his scrawniest role to date; a man who does poor quality press ups and doesn't sleep well. Jack is attacked in Sweden by a sniper. Killing the sniper with his pistol, Jack decides that the best course of action is to shoot his girlfriend in the back too and leave.

Over the next 105 minutes, Jack wanders around a small town in Italy, and makes painstaking alterations to a gun. There's a long sequence where he alters the barrel using tools he borrows from a mechanic. What's most irritating is that despite us spending ten minutes watching a detailed portrayal of him altering it, he clearly wouldn't have been to produce the end result with the tools he had.

Jack working on a gun. For ages

"This will be my last job," he tells his contact. His sinister, sinister contact. I wonder what will happen when he finishes the gun and hands it to the assassin. If only there was some way of me guessing.

I would say that this review contains spoilers, but that implies that there's something to spoil originally. We watch 100 tense minutes of sinister, threatening meetings with the assassin, before Jack hands the gun to the killer. Who then tries to kill him.

Another tense scene. It could be any of them. They all blend into one after a while.

Luckily for him, Jack's brain isn't quite as dull as the plot, and he has prepared for this eventuality. Although he doesn't fully seem to understand why.

"Who are you working for?!" he shouts at the assassin.

The person who we know employed her of course. You know, the only other character in the film, and the one who's been acting suspicious and sinister this whole time. More than that, you even also know he employed her, Jack. The guy phoned you up and said: "I want you to make a gun for someone I've employed". It doesn't get much more obvious than that.

Maybe you're thinking the script is sparkling and witty. It isn't. Here is a the first exchange in the film:
Ingrid: You know, I thought I maybe drive into town. You want something?

Jack: No.
That's about as charismatic as Jack gets. He's actually being particularly talkative in this scene. Later on, I thought back to this scene and wished Jack could be so playful and witty again. Oh, I longed for soliloquies like this.

What about this seductive scene at the high point of the film:
Clara: You are a good man but, you have a secret.
Holy crap, pass me an Oscar!

There's plenty of other nonsense as well. Jack has a vague interest in butterflies, and a butterfly tattoo that isn't really explored throughout the film. At one point, Jack chases another assassin through the quiet Italian city on a bike, shooting indiscriminately at it. No one seems to notice this, and despite the fact he leaves the body in the street, with his fingerprints all over it, the murder is never mentioned again.

The American. Based on a book, not about an American.



The butterfly references confused me, until I realised the film is based on the 1990 novel, A Very Private Gentleman. In this, the protagonist pretends to be a painter of butterflies. In The American, Jack pretends he takes photos for a magazine. "Which magazine?" someone asks him. Jack doesn't reply, because at this point he's used up his allocated quota of words for the month.

His nationality in the book, strangely enough, is never revealed, but almost certainly isn't American. But since they've changed the tone of the book, the title, the plot, why not change that too? The book seems to bear almost no relation to the film. It's like saying Titanic is based on Fun and Games in the Bath (ages 2-5) because they both feature water.

Overall: padded nonsense. Probably the only thing I like about it is that on the poster, it looks like one the characters has been killed with a sink plunger to the head.

And it's not even a plunger.

SP



~~~


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