Sunday, September 5, 2010

Reel To Reel: The American

Make Gun, Will Travel

Going Rate: Worth full price admission.
Starring: George Clooney
Rated: R
Red Flags: Spurts of gun violence, nudity, 1 1/2 sex scenes, mild language

You wouldn't think a film would leave you sympathizing with a shadowy assassin, which is exactly what The American does. This is an action movie that got the art-house treatment, and it's an engaging thriller, even if it does plod at times.

Jack (Clooney) is an expert killer and gunmaker whose last job in Sweden has gone sideways, leaving him to hide out in Italy. Yet while there, he takes an offer to build a compact high-powered rifle. We gather it's for some sort of assassination job, but who? We watch Jack crafting this weapon with loving care, as if it's the only thing in his life he can trust without having to look over his shoulder.

The film absorbed me into Jack's isolation and uneasy existence. Every person who looked at him left me wondering if he or she was a killer or informant, including the scene where Jack first encounters Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli). Benedetto serves as Jack's repressed morality, and he can tell his friend -- who claims to be a photographer -- is hiding something. Yet the clergyman himself is separated from his son who works as a shady mechanic. Jack also falls in love with a local lady of the evening, drawing him into the kind of relationship he has not been able to have for risk of his life.

Jack, I should note, loves butterflies. They fly nearly anywhere they want and migrate with nary any danger. They're too beautiful to swat. Perhaps Jack is longing for that life.

The American is not your conventional hired-assassin film; it has too much going for it on an emotional level with its brooding tension and minimalist style of dialogue. Other films of this genre have the action and the girls and maybe the bedroom romps, but they don't have the feeling of loneliness. The Beatles sang, "Happiness Is A Warm Gun," and that seems to be Jack's only sure source of pleasure.

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