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August 2011

The American

cast: George Clooney, Paolo Bonacelli, Violante Placido, Thekla Reuten, and Bruce Altman

director: Anton Corbijn

101 minutes (15) 2010
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal DVD Region 2

RATING: 9/10
review by Mike Philbin

The American

"If you're lucky, life passes you by. If you're unlucky, your life catches up with you."

I love the pace of this film, it starts slow but is punctuated by essential moments of sheer existence on the precarious edge of life's awaiting precipice; such is the life of a professional gunsmith such as Jack/ Edward (George Clooney). The long slow curves of doubt and paranoia are sometimes more important to character than the sharp corners of pursuit and maddening noise of battle.

Clooney was great in Syriana. Hell, Clooney was great in the coffee advert. In this film he's cut. By that I mean he has a good body on him. Sure, he's not cut like Atkins-dieted Brad Pitt in Fight Club, but he's cut like a fit old man would be. He is proper athletic in this film, not a gung-ho somersaulting Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne, but carefully and ruthlessly athletic in the manner of a grand chess master at the table delivering a long-awaited coup-de-grace.

The American is a film about redemption, not necessarily about being absolved of one's sin but certainly about the long slow maturity that comes back to trouble the folly of our youth, our life, our career. It's a film about that 'retirement moment', when we reach the end of our shelf-life and someone, somewhere, is about to discard us.

Certain shots of Clooney's car scything through Swedish or Italian landscape are evocative of the ultra-high-speed movies of a bullet passing effortlessly through a playing card or an apple, and there's no real surprise here as director Anton Corbijn has been a stills photographer for 35 years. His shots are superbly choreographed, hauntingly framed.

Narratively, The American can be accused of referring too heavily to a Sergio Leone spaghetti western. There are 'meetings in deserted train stations'. There are 'duels in dusty streets'. And it's set in Italy. But these similarities are just some marketeer's glib window-dressing of what is, at its core, a love story; no, not a love story, a realisation story, a revelation story. It's a story about finding who we are after the long decades of who we thought we were, the role we played in our life.

This concept is exemplified by the prostitute Clara to whom Edward opens up to, realising that by doing this he has endangered them both. Lives can change. This is a great film.



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