28 April 2011

Movies: The American

The American (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1440728/

A crime drama with a bit of mystery/suspense. Stars George Clooney as The American, be he named Jack or Edward. Neither is probably his real name. We meet him in a remote location in Sweden with his gal, they go for a walk and find a single set of footprints in the snow.  He gets all paranoid and runs them to cover, only to be fired upon. After he dispatches his attacker we suspect he's an agent of some sort. A tiny bit more story later we learn that he is an assassin. He calls his contact to get his next assignment and announces that's the last one for him and he's out of the business. He wants to retire, to have a real life, to not have to look over his shoulder anymore. He gets sent to a small village in Italy. This time he's not doing the killing, he's building the weapon for another assassin to use.  Not only is he an assassin, he's a master craftsman of weapons for his trade.

This film moves at a pace that probably feels glacial to the general American moviegoer sensibilities. There's hardly any action. No explosions. The car chase scene has Clooney on a moped.  That may read as being comical, but it isn't.  This isn't the type of film that happens in front of you and explains everything at a 6th-grade reading level while you munch snacks and let sound and picture pour into your head.  This one takes a little bit of paying attention. That may sound like a snoozefest for some - but I enjoyed the film. What made the film enjoyable to me was working with minimal information, having to piece together the present and past events in the film, understanding the undertones of the sparse conversations.

What really helps this film work is Clooney's performance. He portrays a calm surface, but you soon see the underlying paranoia required of a man in his profession. He's constantly aware of everything going on around him, and rarely exposes anything about himself or what he's really thinking to others. He never directly answers a question that attempts to plumb deeper than his surface cover story. But at the same time when we see him by himself you can also see the loneliness he endures, again because of his profession.
This isn't the George Clooney you're used to seeing in most of his roles. He really makes this character work in everything he doesn't do and in everything he subtly does. A great example of 'less is more'.

Despite outward appearances there are suspenseful moments. As slow as things may seem to be moving on the surface there's a lot more going on below that surface. And that's what kept the film going for me, kept it moving even when it didn't seem to be.  Kept it suspenseful and thrilling in moments. It works because it is subtle - that subtlety is what draws you in and builds the suspense.  Kindof like ducks on a pond -they seem to glide along effortlessly, but when you see what their feet are up to it's rather furious motion.

Outstanding locations for this film. Visually beautiful at times.  The supporting cast does well in their roles too. The film score is unobtrusive. I didn't notice any weaknesses in the technical aspects of the film. Except, yes,  mercury-filled bullets make an appearance, which sends gun-nerds into a froth about technical accuracy. I'm not a gun nerd, I understand their argument, I can watch the film without worrying about that detail. It has no bearing on the film.

I truly enjoyed the film. It might not work for folks who want action packed assassination thriller films like the Bourne films. This film isn't an amusement park ride, it's more like crawling through grass to avoid lions.

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