Movie Review: The American

The American ***1/2
Directed by: Anton Corbijn
Starring: George Clooney, Irina Bjorklund, Johan Leysen, Paolo Bonacelli, The American, Violante Placido
Focus Features
Release Date: September 4, 2010

The cold and austere snow covered landscape that is immediately placed before us in Anton Corbijn’s “The American” is an opening that grabs our attention and also becomes a metaphor for representing the inner-being of our ruthless and cold-blooded killer, Jack (George Clooney), or does he go by Edward? It is this kind of ambiguity, uncertainty of past events that makes the film an exquisite think-piece. It is a thriller but does not have the same mission other thrillers have. The American possesses a mission that is essential to existentialism: It desires to find the soul of an unbalanced man.

Clooney embodies the indistinct killer, urging even more so the film toward a more mysterious atmosphere. Clooney is situated in a role that requires him to look vulnerable; to wear a countenance that is demoralized. This side of Mr. Clooney has been foreign to movie going audiences. We see his withered, worried face and we automatically begin to think – what is this man concealing? What are his motives? What does he believe in?

Here is a film that requires us to observe heavily the disposition of a man who does not have a center. This lack of a center leads him to firmly believe that God does not have interest in him. He has a conscious, but that conscious is unstable. He has emotions to offer, but those emotions are suffocating because he is not allowed to express them thoroughly. He has to suppress all feeling and emotion while he is doing his job of killing people. He does not favor this line of work anymore. One time he might have, but now there is a craving inside of him that wants to embrace with open arms a life that is normal. But his occupation demands of him his undivided attention and to see through his impenetrable and opaque demeanor would mean one would have to become extremely close with him; something he does not allow to happen despite his urges to allow it.

Having pulled the trigger intentionally on two people and hesitantly on one, Jack’s life after an attempted hit on his life in Sweden begins to unravel. Not only does he see the danger his own life is in, but also he sees the peril he puts individuals in that become too close to him. How many times has he let someone affect his emotions, only to see them perish? Probably many times, which is why Jack has questions regarding his future in this occupation.

After the Sweden incident Jack meets his boss (Johan Leysen) in Italy to discuss future plans. He sets Jack up in a quaint country town in Italy to reflect a bit before a potential next job which would require him not to kill but to make a weapon delivery to Ingrid (Irina Bjorklund), a fellow killer. This isolation in the Italian countryside is where we come to know Jack. We come to know things about him such as he is lonely; wanders the Italian streets and frequents the cafes beyond midnight hours; manufactures custom weapons in a precise and tedious manner; and searches for emotional and sexual comfort at a whorehouse and finds more than he had asked for with a woman named Clara (Violante Placido).

Dialogue is not truly necessary to this film. The Italian landscape and characters’ emotions and actions prevail over words. Are there directors out there unafraid to participate in films that dare to….think? Directors who are willing to demonstrate courageously their interest in the human soul? Yes to both questions. Mr. Corbijn, former music video director and still photographer who directed the rock n’ roll film Control, destabilizes the current mode the thriller is in by finding extravagance in the sublime; in things that are humane and pure. Emotions and consciousness are pinpointed and then surgically dissected to show us a hitman who yearns not for another kill but for a way out. It all may sound cliché and conventional in its plot but it is anything but that. The American contains vicinities littered with existential, religious and romantic landmines. Only an artist, such as Corbijn, will dare to decorate his film elaborately with such themes.

The film’s dissection of humanity is done so meticulously and artfully that we instantaneously recall classics by Michelangelo Antonioni’s existentialist drama, The Passenger, and Jean-Pierre Melville’s highly stylized crime class, Le Samourai. Both of those films prided themselves on discerning man on an entirely different level. They see man as if he is under a microscope. Or as the omnipotent God, as one scene in The American suggests as a priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), is situated above Jack, looking down on him as he walks down a downward spiral of stairs, slowly sinking lower and lower from all of mankind.


  1. I was thinking of The Passenger a lot during this film and great call with Le Samourai.
    I really enjoyed this film. Gave me a lot to think about. Clooney was perfect.
    Excellent review!!

    Comment by Jerry — September 9, 2010 @ 3:36 pm

  2. Last night when I saw the movie, I was left with the question – is “The American” about America? Is the movie about American “enemies” and American collateral damage? Are we our own enemy and our own collateral damage? Then today I recognized that for me the movie is as much a statement about the meaning of America today as Dalton Trumbo’s, Johnney Got His Gun, was about war. We “Americans” are wandering, worried and demoralized! As “Americans” we attempt to embody the John Wayne spirit of standing up for what we believe in, and standing alone if necessary. But we are in turmoil about what it is we should believe in – anything, nothing, whatever any talking head tells us to believe in? This is one lonely joyless charactor that ultimately can’t possess the playboy fantasy come-to-life that he thinks can set him free. But it is this lonliness, despair and denial of personal depth or connection with anything or anyone that makes the end diserving and film a classic. Was it really meant to be a self-portrait?

    Comment by freda — September 9, 2010 @ 5:51 pm

  3. Well, George Clooney is one of my most hot favorite Hollywood actor.  And his 2010 release The American is really one of the fabulous movie forever. The crime and dramatic scenes of this movie are really worthy to see. Thanks for sharing some fabulous information about it.

    Comment by Anonymous — August 4, 2011 @ 3:03 pm

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