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December 28, 2010

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DVD of the Week – Review of The American (2010)

by NIR SHALEV

On the surface, The American is a film that stars George Clooney who plays an assassin, but deep down inside it’s a quiet film that contains gorgeous compositions in every shot and has almost no action sequences. It’s a film, structured like a Western, that’s about a killer who seeks redemption and in turn becomes one of the very best movies of 2010.

George Clooney plays Jack/Edward and after an attempted assassination on his life failed in Sweden, he travels to a beautiful Italian mountain town and upon arrival he goes into hiding. His agent tells him to stay put and lay low until he’s given instructions as to what to do or where to go next.

The plot involves a contact named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) who meets up with Jack/Edward and describes to him the rifle that she wants him to build for her. While he builds it almost entirely from scratch (in order to provide her with an untraceable weapon), he also frequents a brothel and uses only one prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido). He eventually begins falling for the woman and begins to evaluate his life up to the present. Will Jack/Edward be afraid for the rest of his life or will he change his life and bring a woman into his loneliness? There’s the main idea.

What the film offers, on a deeply psychological level, is the story of a very mortal but professional man who is a master craftsman, but he’s afraid to die before feeling good about himself. He knows that there’s something missing deep inside and his loneliness grows two-fold in this old, beautiful city.

In the brothel, we witness rough bouts of sex instead of eroticism as Jack/Edward lets out his anger and frustrations. But when the film is quiet, visually and audibly, it focuses on Jack’s internal struggle with himself, his loneliness, and his mortality and George Clooney delivers one of his finest performances to date.

Here’s what I love about this film: it’s an Italian production that’s about an American assassin and whose director is Dutch. It’s very much similar to the Italian/French productions of the 1970s that center themselves on complex characters and their intricate developments instead of plot contrivances and lackluster screenplays. This is a film that is quiet, beautiful, and heartbreaking.

As I’d mentioned, this is a beautiful looking film and not a single shot in it is pointless. For composition junkies like myself, this film is chock full of details and visual metaphors, and is even color coded (specifically the colors red and purple). Director Anton Corbijn (Control, 2007) was, professionally, originally a still photographer and as a result his compositions in this film are beautiful to behold. But the compositions are not entirely about colors and shapes but masterful visual storytelling.

The DVD does not contain any special features but the Blu-ray release contains an in-depth commentary track with director Anton Corbijn, some deleted scenes, and a short behind the scenes segment.

Original Commentary Track review of The American by Helen Geib.

Other new releases this week: Legendary, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Twelve


2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Helen
    Dec 29 2010

    Reading your review I felt I was reading a review of the movie I would have seen if the script had been as good as the direction and Clooney’s performance. My criticisms of this one really all boil down to the writing- which come to think of it, is the case with quite a few of the movies I saw this year.

  2. Dec 29 2010

    Well, on my first viewing I felt that, aside from the beauty of the cinematography and the excellent performances, it’s a tragic film that may or may not be too quiet. I was never bored because my eyes wandered everywhere at all times, picking up visual pleasantries and visual storytelling. On my second viewing, right after the first, I concentrated more on the cinematography of the film.
    Recently I’d watched it with the commentary track by the director and my eyes opened up quite a lot more, based on little things that I missed (character details) and based on his experiences as a photographer and how certain shots needed to to be shot.
    I still find this film to be a tour de force and I also completely understand why a good 70% of the people that had watched it absolutely hate it.

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