Best described as an artsy sedentary crime thriller mostly on mute, The American sheds just about everything essential to making that genre work, including action, tension and dialogue. Okay, so George Clooney as Jack – aka Mr. Butterfly – is taking a break from the assassination business to hang out in the Italian countryside and converse in an unfamiliar language. But moving the primarily contemplative drama inside Jack’s silent head where only a shrink and not the audience may have the necessary tools to pry his internal monologue loose, makes for a rather static viewer experience.
Suffering from what may be post-traumatic hitman disorder, Jack appears to be a combo assassin and gun runner, who at the moment could have a price on his own head instead. The nervous wreck bad guy ventures off to rural Italy to hide out from the mystery men in pursuit, and possibly also – move over Julia Roberts – enjoy a little scenic down time.
When not exchanging ideas about guilt, innocence and the human condition in a rather unfriendly manner with a suspicious priest on the village premises, the existential hitman is gravitating towards a couple of suspect women instead of a badly needed shrink. Including one enterprising female who’s into buying his designer weapons, and a local prostitute available to act out that standard male screen fantasy of hooker romance, as high price tag stranger sex blossoms.
Based on the book by the late UK novelist Martin Booth, from which the original story appears to have been left behind, and directed by Netherlands born Anton Corbijn, The American plays out as if scripted in a filmmaker’s second language, if not far removed from any familiar cultural references. Indeed, there’s hardly a reason at hand to believe that Jack is an American, as opposed to any other nationality, other than the nosy priest making scornful remarks to him that Americans have no sense of the past, and live only for the present. As does this narrative minus any back story, in a not practicing what you preach lack of perspective.
And in this what’s-on-your-mind moody mystery where self-indulgent silences upstage suspense, producer Clooney has also made the kiss-of-death mistake of miscasting himself in the leading role, a glum protagonist minus charisma of which Clooney is entirely the opposite. Which is to say that an internalized crime caper shutting the viewer out, and a hitman mostly mugging for the camera and little else, just won’t do. While at the same time if this character is out of touch with his feelings, so are we.
1 [out of 4] star