To paraphrase Shane Black, you have to wade through a lot of vomit to find that one piece of ham. And after wading through the vomit that was the 2010 Summer movie season, a very prime piece of ham The American turned out to be.
The movie was adapted from Martin Booth’s novel, A Very Private Gentleman, and while Booth’s protagonist is portrayed as cautious yet very confident, Clooney plays him as a man who’s come to the realization that he’s living on borrowed time. After narrowly escaping an attempt on his life in Sweden (and after seeing this and reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I’m convinced all people do up there is murder and rape each other), Clooney settles in a small Italian village, where he’s agreed to take on one last job before leaving the game for good.
Clooney’s learned his lessons the hard way, so he spends much of the movie looking over his shoulder. Not only for the Swedes, but his employer, who Clooney knows he can’t fully trust. In the middle of this, he’s befriended by a local priest and becomes romantically involved with the prostitute he visits. After Sweden, “don’t let people get close” has become Clooney’s mantra, but he’s a man who recognizes the fact that he’s set to self-destruct, and for him, this is a way of breaking out of that cycle. Even if he does so somewhat reluctantly, as in the case of Father Benedetto.
As with any adaptation, I knew the movie would take certain liberties with the book, but overall I thought it remained pretty faithful, and the changes the filmmakers did make made sense for a movie that doesn’t even take up a full two hours. My biggest problem with the movie is that it’s so minimalist that it doesn’t really seem to say anything. Clooney’s last job is to fashion a gun for a hit, the politics of which are never talked about or even alluded to. Father Benedetto recognizes that Clooney is burdened by a horrible secret, but aside from a few questions, the morality (or lack thereof) of those secrets is never really explored.
I won’t spoil the ending, but I think most people will understand that a movie like this can only end one of two ways, and considering the way it all played out, I can’t really figure out if one would have been less cliched than the other. In the end it didn’t seem to matter. As soon as I left the theater I remembered I was hungry and went to Taco Bell. And while a Crunchwrap Supreme is a great, great thing, I would have preferred to instead chew on the movie a bit longer.
I enjoyed The American. Like I said, it was very welcome after these past few months. I thought it was well made and well acted. I enjoyed that the look of the film was so spartan that it made everything it did show resonate. I just wish there was a little something more to grab onto and that it wasn’t as forgettable as I’m afraid it’s going to be.