When the post-mortem for the summer movie season of 2010 is written, it’s certain to note that its colossal failure came down to this: Not enough movies about superheroes or assassins.
So it’s a case of “too little, too late” that George Clooney rides into town with the assassin flick “The American.” You may recall that Clooney once played a superhero in the movie that derailed the Batman franchise for eight years. Let’s all be grateful that he’s a better assassin than he is a caped crusader.
Clooney plays Jack, a hired gun living a quiet life in a secluded, snowy part of Sweden. When a trio of killers show up guns blazing, Jack knows his cover is blown and takes off. He contacts his handler, who tells him to lay low in a small town in the Italian countryside.
Pretending to be a photographer, Jack is befriended by a priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), and a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). Within days he’s given an assignment — to build a special gun for fellow assassin Mathilde (Thekla Reuten).
“The American” is well named, as Clooney is the only thing American about it. Directed by Anton Corbijn, the film has a definite European feel. The pace is slow and measured, the violence is sudden and quick. There are no drawn out gun battles or car chases. No fist fights in shaky cam. Lots of scenes of Violante Placido topless.
These are not bad things — particularly the latter. But it’s a far cry from the Jason Bourne-style thriller American audiences are used to. It’s more a character study than a shoot-em-up.
The movie also boasts great cinematography and gorgeous scenery. And Clooney gives a compelling performance that draws you in.
However, if you’re going to do the long, slow burn then there needs to be a really good payoff and that’s where “The American” misses the mark. In the end the story falls back on every “retiring assassin” movie cliché and it’s a bit disappointing. It also raises questions that are hard to answer logically.
Did it work for me? I’m rather on the fence with this one. I was drawn into it up until its unsatisfying ending. But I really can’t complain about Clooney’s performance or the lovely Italian landscapes or Placido’s breasts.
Elsewhere: Opening Friday is “Going the Distance,” the latest Drew Barrymore romcom. Go at your own risk. I can’t advise you.
Also opening is “Machete,” the Robert Rodriguez epic based on a fake trailer from “Grindhouse.” I haven’t seen it either but I can guarantee you it will be bloody awesome. And when I say bloody awesome, I mean it will be awesome and covered in buckets of blood; not “bloody awesome” the way Brits use bloody as an adjective.
And isn’t it past time that talent like Robert De Niro, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson and Cheech Marin have to play second fiddle to craggy-faced Danny Trejo?