Devil’s DVD Advocacy: The American
At no point in my mind did I envision The American as being an action filled, hitman thriller. The footage that was presented did not imply or intimate any such thing. In fact, I was expecting something along the lines of The Professional, mixed with a touch of Grosse Point Blank, only with much less action and comedy. Instead, the film is a case study of a man that is looking for a reason to leave his lamentable career, but has difficulty mustering the courage to do so.
It was easy to ascertain the anti-hero’s intention’s, due to the extensive amount of character development given in the first hour of the film. In fact, that is almost all there is in the first sixty minutes. Scene after scene depicts George Clooney’s Jack as a pensive and intricate man, constantly taking in his surrounding and assessing his situation. There are moments where all that is seen is Jack taking in the scenery and adjusting to his environment. And these moments are followed by similar moments, and so on and so forth. Little is done to progress the story early on, and the audience is left guessing as to what Jack’s purpose for being in Italy is.
Clooney and the entire supporting cast give amazing performances, despite the failings of the script being used. The focus falls mainly on Jack, but he receives literal and perceptual back up from Thelka Reuten’s Mathilde, Paolo Bonacelli’s Father Benedetto, and Violante Placido’s Clara. The scenes Clooney shares with each of these actors are electric, for various and different reasons. From the passion he shares with Clara, to the idealistic battles with Father Benedetto, each and every moment he has on screen with his counterparts, the movie is instantly elevated. Unfortunately, these occasions are few and far between, leaving the viewer wanting more and more of these interactions. Clooney is leading man material through and through, but even the most skilled veteran actors need partners to accentuate their presence.
While slow moving and lacking in a general plot, The American does an excellent job of humanizing what should be viewed as a deplorable individual. The first five minutes establish Clooney’s Jack as such, but manages to reveal other facets of the man’s life as the film rolls on. Much like Clooney’s character, Ryan Bingham, in Up in the Air, we probably shouldn’t root for them and their redemption, but somehow we can’t help but do so. While Jack the “actual” hitman is only slightly more wretched than Ryan the “corporate” hitman, it’s hard not to view him as the protagonist of the story the closer you get to the end. And as we reach the conclusion, we find inevitability and triteness as things unfold in the manner in which we might expect. Instead of staying true to its characters and story, the film veers off path literally and figuratively.
Great acting and an intriguing background really help to hold up the structure of The American. The lack of story progression and plot development however work to weaken the structure as time goes on. While there are certainly some negatives to take into account, the positives are such that they make the film worth watching. As an individual that values story and dialogue above all else, there were moments that were excruciating to watch, but there are tiny pay offs strewn throughout the film. Not the hit I was hoping for, but certainly worth a viewing.