FILM REVIEW Pretty but lacking in substance and suspense

The American is more of a character study than an action thriller

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Clooney is all charisma but even that can’t save The American from blandness
Focus Features

The American

Starring George Clooney, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten

Directed by Anton Corbijin

Rated R, Now playing

The American is Dutch director Anton Corbijn’s movie adaptation of the 1990 thriller A Very Private Gentleman by British novelist Martin Booth. George Clooney stars as the main character Jack, an assassin hiding in the Italian countryside after someone attempts to kill him.

The film begins quietly, depicting Jack spending time with a woman named Ingrid (Irina Björklund) in a lonely Swedish remote cabin. The romantic scene is suddenly interrupted when they get attacked by assassins who try to kill Jack. This forces him to reveal his true identity by fighting back and eventually killing all the attackers. Jack also has to kill Ingrid to efface all evidence that could potentially lead to him.

Jack escapes to Rome to contact his associate Pavel (Johan Leysen) who sends him to a small Italian town in the mountains of Abruzzo. Jack ends up in a nearby town, seeking refuge from the Swiss assassins. This town — the famous Castel del Monte — is the main setting of the movie. While hiding from his Swedish pursuers he accepts another job from Pavel: He agrees to build a special weapon for another assassination. During that time he begins to regularly visit one of the local prostitutes, Clara (Violante Placido). Eventually, their relationship deepens and evolves from lust to an affectionate love. Ultimately, Jack decides to leave his past behind and escape with Clara for good but when he briefs Paval about his decision, thus begins the path to perdition.

Anton Corbijn’s movie presents many beautiful scenic views, glorifying the Italian mountains of Abruzzo and the remote village of Castel del Monte but like the medieval hill town, his movie is completely static. The trailer falsely depicts The American to be an action movie in the vein of the Bourne movies or Pierre Morel’s thriller Taken when it is in fact a poignant character study, far from a thriller. There is almost no dialogue and next to no lucid plot; The American feels like an illustrated book missing the words.

There are some rare moments when the movie picks up speed and accumulates tension- only failing to actually climax and utilize the buildup. If one were to try to retell The Bourne Identity in the same pace, the audience would not leave the movie theater for years. Furthermore, the movie is very predictable and for some reason follows an obsolete Hollywood morality. This is an almost insurmountable test of the audience’s patience and generates a bank of tedium.

Overall, despite George Clooney’s excellent play, Anton Corbijn fails to create a contemporary film adaptation of Booth’s novel. If you are a Clooney fan you might want to see The American. But if you expect another James Bond action film (being deceived by advertising campaign and production photographs), you will be sorely disappointed. You will probably prefer Taken — even though you already saw it before.