Movie Review: The American

american2010 has become the Year of the Working Vacation at the multiplex. Amy Adams spent a couple months in Ireland shooting “Leap Year,” knowing full well that the movie she was making was her #2 reason for being there. Adam Sandler got Columbia Pictures to pay him and his buddies millions to play at a water park. Now we find George Clooney shooting a thriller about an assassin who holes up in Italy after a job gone wrong, and wouldn’t you know it, Clooney has a villa in Italy. His character even tells another character that he’s on a working vacation, so at least he’s honest about his motives.

And as working vacations go, “The American” certainly had the potential to be better than “Leap Year” or “Grown-Ups.” Clooney has had the golden touch of late when it comes to picking scripts, but this is the most underwritten movie Clooney’s done in years. It’s gorgeous to look at, sure, but that sort of thing is a given when you’re in the Italian countryside, surrounded by beautiful Italian women, and your director is a professional photographer. If it didn’t look gorgeous, this movie would be what bloggers call an epic fail.

Clooney is Jack, a weary assassin who goes into hiding in a small Italian village after a job in Sweden goes awry. His handler Pavel (Johan Leysen) gives him the low-hassle job of building a long-range weapon for fellow assassin Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), but Jack finds himself having trouble remaining in isolation. He befriends a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and frequents lovely call girl Clara (Violante Placido), but as he gets used to living a relatively normal life, the sins of his past come back to haunt him.

The first problem with “The American” is the title, which tells you nothing about the movie. It refers to the movie’s running joke about how the Italian locals all ‘out’ Clooney as an American when all he wants to do is blend in, but no one will glean that from the poster. The other problem is the story, which contains nothing you haven’t seen before. The hit man who wants out, the One Last Job, the hooker with a heart of gold…stop us if you’ve heard this one before. Perhaps the novel on which the story is based, Martin Booth’s “A Very Private Gentleman,” contains some extra layers (they usually do), but the script could have used a little more intrigue.

Clooney gives the movie what he can, but even he seems to know he’s hamstrung by the material. Placido, however, makes the most of Clara, an admittedly easy task considering all the script demands of her is to be sexy and beautiful, both of which come quite naturally to her. Director Anton Corbijn (“Control”) doesn’t go full-on Anthony Minghella on the Italian countryside, but he sells it well, though a couple shots looked like outtakes from his video of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”

In an era where movies based on video games receive ridiculously complicated back stories, “The American” had the chance to right the ship by showing what it means to give a story gravitas without clutter. Unfortunately, it keeps things too simple, and the lack of a B-story diminishes the movie’s overall impact. Still, it was probably one of the most enjoyable paychecks Clooney’s ever cashed.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

This originally ran August 31, 2010 on

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