The American - Online Review

'Does the director think he is making a Western? There are more similarities than might initially seem logical'

Cynics may regard The American as a combination of an advertisement for Italian beer and an advertisement for Swiss coffee. I can see why. Here is an advertisement for Swiss coffee. Here is an advertisement for Italian beer. Combine the two and you do kind of get somewhere close to The American.

Facetious and perhaps rather obvious comparisons with infomercials aside, Anton Corbijn's film actually has a lot to offer in a tight narrative which, though deliberately paced, takes trouble to play to its supposed genre and placate the viewer with tense moments and sparse, well directed, action.

The question of what genre The American moves in though is open to debate and like all films which aspire to be more than their label, Corbijn's is all the better for it. A fairly standard opening puts us clearly in the 'hit-gone-wrong' sub-genre of assassination films. A long wait in the small town of Castel del Monte recalls classic tense dramas where something bad is potentially coming this way - think Waiting For Godot or Sexy Beast. Corbijn though throws a curveball late on when Jack (George Clooney) is seen waiting in a cafe, Once Upon A Time In The West playing on the television in the background. Does the director think he is making a Western? There are more similarities than might initially seem logical and the isolated locale, the anti-hero, the flawed female character in need of saving and the desperate one-on-one duelling all fit.

Clooney moves through this as you might expect. He is a lost Hollywood star, somehow present in a piece of independent Euro-arthouse and it takes time for both him and the audience to adapt to his presence. Ultimately, it is a presence that is too charming to find distasteful. Jack is a conflicted character but Corbijn takes pains to show that those are two-a-penny in his Italian Wild West. Even Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) has his flaws and the decision to keep Clooney's dialogue to a minimum in Jack's duologues with the priest are a large part of the reason why, eventually, his presence is entirely welcome.

Occasionally the minor plot holes in Corbijn's story can frustrate; who is Pavel? Why are the Swedes after him in the first place? How does Jack get his rooms in Castel del Monte? Why does he agree to the proposed job if he's suspicious? Why does Corbijn cut the conversation with Clara (Violante Placido) at the river so short? Ultimately his film is too beautiful to care much. One stunningly-lit chase round the town at night - where artificial light is used to fantastic effect - should be enough to win even the most devoted Swiss coffee lover or ardent Italian beer drinker, over to The American's charms.

Look further...

'Corbijn and Clooney make it work... and teach us an important lesson along the way: if you’re ever trying to outwit an assassin, always take your shoes off' - Ross v Ross, 4/5


  1. this is painful to watch. i couldn't even get through the whole thing. i really do think clooney needs a strong supporting cast to appear good. he did not get that with this movie. and it moved like molasses with no real point or direction.

  2. I can appreciate some of that (it is slow, not to to everyone's taste) but I thought the supporting cast were fine and the direction Jack was heading understandable, if open. Sorry to see you didn't enjoy it.