The American, starring George Clooney, is based on Martin Booth’s A Very Private Gentleman. Considering what the connotation the word “American” brings to an espionage thriller, A Very Private Gentleman, or anything else besides “The American” for that matter, would have been a more fitting title.
If you think that I am hung up on the use of the word “American” in this instance, I am. It provides the central character with a distinguishable characteristic (as if being played by Clooney isn’t enough of one) that comes with a set of expectations. In a movie that has little working in its favor, the word “American” dilutes a central aspect of this film – the fact that the main character is supposed to be mysterious and isolated.
George Clooney is The American (so the promotional has told us.) He is Jack, sometimes Edward, the highly secretive manufacturer of weapons for assassins. Jack/Edward is also quite a skilled marksman. Throughout the film, you never know who is really after him – the Swedes, his own neuroses, or his equally secretive employer.
After an unfortunate encounter with the Swedes that left Jack’s lover dead, he is sent to a small Italian village to work on a project and lay low. While there, he falls in love with Clara, a prostitute.
We are consistently reminded that Jack cannot maintain normal relationships with woman but if he meets the right woman, he would leave his business behind. I get it. He falls in love with Clara. He wants to settle down with her. But he cannot leave the assassin world behind without consequences.
The romance between Jack and Clara is never given suitable complexity. We are led to believe that Clara is reason enough for him to leave. But what about the woman killed in film’s opening moments? Why wasn’t she enough? Their relationship just doesn’t do enough to maintain an interest in the film.
The American works best when it does not focus on this silly romantic conundrum. When the film actually acts like a thriller and stays one step ahead of you that is when it becomes a memorable cinematic experience. The film is one giant jigsaw puzzle exemplified by a long chase sequence in the Italian village. At times there is a quick shot from above showing the intricate, puzzle-like layout of the village. This brief sequence, while a traditional chase scene, reminds us that this character is not supposed to have any true identity. If only The American had just stuck to that one simple notion.