"The American" Turns the Tried-and-True Thriller Inward
Judging by the advertisements, The American is a fast-paced, stylish thriller starring George Clooney as a dashing, conflicted hero. Yet the actual movie is a deconstructed action picture in which not much happens (until it does). Directed by Anton Corbijn and adapted from Martin Booth's novel A Very Private Gentleman, the film stars Clooney as Jack, an occasional assassin, but more often an arms supplier for assassins, building custom firearms to exacting specifications. In quick order, Jack is flushed out of his lakeside hideaway and set on the run, landing in a remote Italian town that would be picturesque were it not so spooky. There, Jack waits for his contact (Thekla Reuten) and becomes increasingly certain that someone is after him. By slowing down the pace of what would more conventionally be a pulse-pounding chase thriller, Corbijn successfully creates a feeling of unease. Jack is trapped in his own purgatory, and well before he meets his contact for a last handoff in a dusty parking lot, Clooney's character has given over fully to existential dread. The American becomes less about assassins and targets than about the tension between Jack's external placidity and internal tumult. Despite the director's insistence on pushing viewers away at every turn, there is nevertheless something exciting about a movie this uncompromised, in which the big change from book to screen actually toughens up the story instead of watering it down.
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