September 9, 2010

The American

September 9, 2010

We’re definitely in the doldrums movie-wise if “The American” is number one at the box office this week. I saw the film one ninety-five-degree afternoon, not because I had high hopes, but because I was desperate for some relief from the heat.

Cooling my heels was not nearly a good enough reason to waste eight dollars and 103 minutes of my time.

I get that George Clooney is the strong silent type, heir apparent to Alan Ladd, Steve McQueen, and Clint Eastwood. But I cared about Shane, Bullitt, and Harry Callahan. The screenplay lifted the mask a bit so I could see underneath. No such luck here.

Clooney plays an assassin named, at different times, Jack and Edward. The action begins with a tryst in Sweden that’s brutally interrupted by two men who try to kill him. He beats them to it and shoots his girlfriend, too, because she can identify him.

Then he calls his handler and heads to a small town in the mountains east of Rome, where he’s supposed to lay low and build a specialized rifle for a new client, Mathilde.

This is a dumb move, since Clooney sticks out like a sore thumb. He makes no attempt to look or act like anyone else in the village, and his Italian is almost nonexistent. Like every other American on the planet, I guess, he only speaks English. Hence the title.

Not surprisingly, his enemies track Jack down. He murders a man, and nothing happens. Apparently, they don’t have law enforcement in rural Italy.

One of the worse “only in the movies” moments occurs when Mathilde visits to check out the goods. They go to a secluded spot, where she has ample opportunity to kill Jack and leave. Of course, if she did, the film would end after about forty-five minutes, and we wouldn’t be treated to a penultimate ridiculous scene where Jack’s mysterious handler shoots Mathilde in the middle of a large crowd gathered for an unspecified religious festival—before she has the chance to assassinate Jack. Again, he shrugs and walks away.

But that’s not all. His handler tracks Jack down. After Jack kills him, he hops in his car and drives several miles before he realizes he’s been fatally wounded.

Talk about being out of touch!

Jack takes up with a local prostitute, Clara, who’s drop-dead gorgeous and enjoys his lovemaking so much that she stops asking him for money (don’t know how she can afford her luxurious wardrobe if she’s giving away freebies).

It’s not entirely clear where her allegiance lies, since he spots her exchanging presumably incriminating information with two unidentified males. Also, Clara and Mathilde call him by the same nickname. Three reasons for this unexplained bit of exposition occur to me:  
  • The women are in cahoots (not supported by the end of the film),
  • Mathilde has seen Jack without his shirt on (though they don't appear to have met before she first shows up),
  • Mathilde has the entire village bugged so she knows when and how Jack and Clara have sex and where he will be at the exact moment she is required by the script to take a shot at him.
This is shoddy storytelling, which might be marginally acceptable if there were adequate character development, minimal exposition, and/or atmosphere, all of which are sadly lacking. Why? Not enough money? Not enough respect for the audience?

“The American” is based upon a 1990 novel by Martin Booth called A Very Private Gentleman. I could read the book to find the answers to the questions not provided by the movie. If I cared enough.

Here are a review and a trailer.

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