Perhaps the most fascinating things about 2010’s The American is how skewed audience reaction was. If you head over to Rotten Tomatoes’ summary of the film, you’ll find that critics, for the most part, liked it (66% approval) while regular audiences pretty much hated it (only 37% approval).
I found these statistics after seeing and digesting the film for myself. My conclusion? The results don’t surprise me. I suspect The American is simply one of those divisive films that one is either going to love (or at the least like) or hate.
For The American is something of a throwback of a film, a 2010 film that nonetheless feels as if it is trying to evoke the moody character studies present in films of the late 1960’s and into the 1970’s. For my money, there’s nothing wrong with that. For others, the idea of following a dark, emotionally distant hitman over the course of nearly two hours with very little actual “action” may be simply too dull a trip to take.
Count me in the former category…though with one very big caveat.
The American begins with our main character, the mysterious hitman (George Clooney) in a small wooden cabin out in the middle of a serene snowy tableau. He has company, a beautiful woman whom he is clearly intimate with. They go out for a walk and, suddenly, the hitman realizes someone is targeting him.
Without giving too much away, our hitman is separated from the woman and is forced to leave this seemingly idyllic home. He contacts his superior who sends him to a small Italian villa to cool off while he “looks into” the people who are after the hitman. He also offers him a job.
The bulk of the film follows our hitman as he navigates two small Italian villas while working on the creation/modification of a silenced weapon. Three times he meets his actual (Thekla Reuten), who, we know, will use this weapon for an assassination. During this time we become close enough to our hitman to get a taste of his growing sense of paranoia. Are the killers who nearly got to him at the start of the film still on his trail? Is his client and/or his boss out to get him? And, when he starts seeing a prostitute named Clara (the absolutely stunning Violante Placido), is she more than she seems…?
By the time the film reaches its climax, most of my guesses as to what was going on turned out to be true and, therefore, I have to say the plot of The American is -to me anyway- rather predictable. It is this very predictability (the caveat I mentioned above) that keeps me from giving The American a hearty endorsement. The movie is, nonetheless, a good slow burn thriller which features some incredible cinematography and acting (and, as mentioned before, the stunning Ms. Placido). While it may not be as successful -at least from a story standpoint- as I hoped it would be, you can do far worse than spend your time with The American. On the other hand, don’t expect a truly stunningly original and/or unpredictable story.
(Maybe one of the other reasons audiences were turned off by the film is that the trailers, like the one below, made the film look like more of an action/adventure/thriller than it was. There are action sequences, but for the most part the film is a character study. You have been warned!)