Dutch-born director, Anton Corbijn, with Clooney as a principal producer, has crafted, basically, a non-verbal film. (Re-dubbing the English dialogue into other tongues, as well as the modicum of Italian heard on the soundtrack (in subtitles) should be a picnic in the park.
Strangely enough, there are a couple of picnics that take place in a very parkish kind of spot not far from Castel del Monte, where much of the film was shot. Clooney, as Jack, or sometimes as Edward---masquerading as a photographer---takes two different ladies to this bucolic, creek-side stretch of picturesque Italia.
First is Clara (Violante Placido), a very beautiful Lady of the Evening, who resides in the scenic village of Castel del Monte. Jack's visit with Clara to the "park" is not business...well not the business Jack is in. (Rated "R.")
The time he takes at the remote spot with the second woman is all business. Her name is Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). She's as cold and professional as Jack/Edward. The lady is in need of a very special kind of telescopic rifle with an extra-special silencer.
This part of "The American" isn't far out of the niche in terms of being a foreign thriller. What is a different is meshing that with Jack's association with Castel del Monte's wise, old priest, Father Benedetto, played by Paolo Bonocelli. (Both such lovely-sounding Italian names to read or say out loud to yourself, yes?)
Jack's contact, the sinister Pavel, played by Johan Leysen, has advised Jack to not make any friends while he's holed-up in Castel del Monte, since their last caper, in Sweden, went so sour through Jack becoming too well-bedded-down with another lady he had to, ultimately, for safety's sake, put ordnance into of his own. She's Ingrid, seen at the open of the film and played by Irina Björklund.
That's why Jack has only taken-up, to a very cautious degree, with Father Benedetto---and Clara, who often makes business calls to Jack's hotel room. But it looks as though Clara is falling in love with Jack. And Father Benedetto is "seeing through" Jack...seeming to know that the secrets Jack keeps are large and dark.
Before the gentle confrontation between Jack and Father Benedetto finalizes, the good Father, himself, is revealed having a bit of a skeleton in his closet that Jack has picked-up on. However, the substantive conflict between Jack and Benedetto is on a much higher plane.
Does God exist or not? The priest is sure of God...Jack thinks, if God exists, that He holds little interest for Jack.
The best part of this film for me is that, like a sparely-written novel, it doesn't bog down with details. We don't know who Jack works for or what he did before he got into the business he's in, whatever that is. Maybe Jack's tattoos give a clue. Futhermore, we don't know who Mathilde wants to shoot with the weapon Jack is preparing for her. We don't know what Pavel is doing assigning Jack to the task. To give you a half a spoiler on that: we never do know what any of the minutiae are. They're not really important. Jack, as a human being, and his predicament are what the film focuses on, in its quiet, deliberate, un-sluggish way.
If you want buzzy action and CGI like this summer's biggy, "Inception," "The American" is not for you. In fact, in contrast to "Inception," I've don't believe I've ever seen a film that low-keys it so much all the way to the end that has such a riveting close---even though what partially does happen near the finale, I thought might take place before it occurs. I'd call that half a telegraph. That's about as clear as I can make it for you, without giving everything away.
Other than a nearly silly scene that has Clooney on a Vespa chasing the auto of a fleeing would-be assassin, I felt Corbijn's film much more acceptable than I thought it would be, since there was no screening given prior to its open on this date.
Clooney is known for appearing in political films. "American" isn't blatantly so, except, maybe, for a brief moment of dialogue between Jack and Father Benedetto. The priest, being told by Jack that he's a photographer, assumes that Jack has some knowledge of Italian history to bolster efforts for marketing the photos. Jack denies being any kind of history buff. Father Benedetto is surprised by this...and by remarking, earlier, that Jack is, obviously, American, says in reply to Jack, "You're an American. You can escape history."
This comment by the priest proves, for Jack at least, not to be the case.
Good movie: "The American" should play well in Europe.
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