They don't make enough movies like The American. I went in not really knowing what to expect from this movie, other than the fact that George Clooney is always fantastic and I was looking forward to seeing him play an assassin. I anticipated a fun Bourne style action movie with a bit more subdued European style. Perhaps something light and fun that would be visually stunning but slightly forgettable. What I ended up seeing however was a beautiful and compelling character study about the life of an aging assassin. I've seen it described as an art-house action movie and that is a fairly good description. One other good way to describe it would be "phenomenal."
The past few years, I've come to realize how much of an amazing actor George Clooney is. Since 2007, his list of accomplishments is fairly impressive. Movies like Michael Clayton, Burn After Reading, Up in the Air, and even Fantastic Mr. Fox were great movies made even better by his inclusion. I'm not breaking new ground with this statement, but I really do see him as the modern day Cary Grant, who just so happens to be my other favorite actor. Clooney's ability to go so easily from comedy (Burn After Reading) to more serious fare like The American is what sets him apart from a lot of other leading men out there today. I feel he has recently entered a new phase in his career that to me is one of the most exciting transitions an actor has made in quite some time. He seems to have a great eye for picking movies and I will now look forward to almost anything he is in.
In the American, Clooney plays the stereotypical aging assassin who has decided that after a successful life of being great at what he does, it's time to pack it in and try to lead a normal life. That really is the only stereotypical thing about this movie though. It takes that premise and brings it to such a refreshing place that it makes it all feel new again. The movie forces you to feel the pain that his life choices have caused him. He is a lonely man with no friends or a home. It's the type of action movie where you actually dread any action that could take place because you fear for the safety of this character that you have come to admire. It's also one of the more visually gifted movies I have seen in quiet some time, spending lots of time showcasing the beauty of the small Italian village the movies takes place in.
So luckily, George Clooney isn't the only great thing about this movie. Part of his last job involves making the weaponry needed for another assassin (played by the gorgeous Thekla Reutan) to complete her job. I loved all of their scenes due to the delightful tension that continues to get stronger as the movie progresses. Normally if the other spy was played by a man, there would still be tension as we are not sure who Clooney can trust, but by having this other spy be a beautiful woman, it adds a dangerously sexy appeal to all of their scenes. The scenes of Clooney putting together the needed weapon while sitting alone in his workshop were some of my favorite in the movie. You can tell from the mix of determination on his face and the ease of his hands quickly putting the pieces together that Clooney's character is a real artist. I was left only slightly disappointed when these scenes ended and it didn't pan out and show that his character made the dildo chair from Burn After Reading.
Thekla's assassin character is not meant to be Clooney's love interest though. That role is played by Violante Placido, who is so stunning it's almost offensive. Her character, Clara, is an Italian prostitute that Clooney is able to find a sense of comfort from. They quickly fall for each other and it's not hard to see why. But of course we know that it's never safe for a hitman to have a love interest but we also know that a hitman can never really trust anyone. Their relationship is played out so perfectly in this movie that my only complaint is that they didn't have a lot more scenes together. It's sort of an irrational complaint though because the movie moves at such a quick pace that it never feels like a scene is wasted. I'd be afraid that adding even one extra scene may tip it in the wrong direction. At only 105 min. it is a movie that knows how to get the job done and does it in a mostly non-showy fashion, much like Clooney's character himself.
I am left quite flabbergasted at the mixed reviews of this movie. Sure it's not perfect (there is one glaring issue I have but it so admittingly nit picky it is not even worth mentioning here due to spoilers) but it is still a very smart movie that left me extremely satisfied. This movie seems to scream out that summer is over and school is back in session. For those "kids" who still crave the inane loudness that comes with summer movies, I can see how they may be disappointed in this relatively quiet study. But for adults ready to get back to actually learning something from the movies, The American is open for enrollment.