If you are having trouble sleeping, you might want to go see “The American,” starring George “I’m-Always-Dr. Ross” Clooney in one of the slowest and most boring “thrillers” ever to have the misfortune of making it to the silver screen. Now if you manage to stay awake, you’ll soon realize that there is more excitement in an episode of “SpongeBob SquarePants” than you will find in this lackluster snooze fest. But I’m betting that the first 15 minutes will cure your insomnia and leave you slumbering happily in your seat.
The one thing the film does do, however, is continue the unexplainable mystique of why people flock to Clooney’s movies in which he constantly plays the same character with different names. This film is no exception, and at times it looked as if Clooney were so bored by the part he was playing that he also might drift off into slumber land.
“The American” opens in Sweden, where Jack or Edward (For some reason Clooney’s character has two names.) is holed up in an isolated cabin with a lover, Ingrid (Irina Bjorklund). We don’t know why they are there, but it doesn’t really matter. When the two of them decide to take a walk in the snowy wilderness, Ingrid notices some fresh footprints, and Jack suddenly grabs her and begins running for cover in the woods. Soon another guy shows up, and Jack promptly shoots him. Then he tells Ingrid to go back to the cabin and call the police, and at this point the biggest surprise in the film occurs, and everything goes downhill from here.
Jack ends up in Rome, where he makes a phone call to a guy named Pavel (Johan Leysen), who apparently is his boss. As the film continues, we learn that Jack is an assassin who also is adept at building weapons. But he wants to get out of the business because he’s tired of running from some Swedes who want to kill him. Pavel tells Jack that it’s too dangerous for him to say in Rome and suggests that he go to a small village, but Jack doesn’t like it there and moves to another little town. Here he goes by the name of Edward and masquerades as a photographer.
Pavel gives Edward the job of building a gun for a woman named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), and he accepts the assignment with the concomitant agreement that it will be his last one. About this time Edward also becomes involved with Clara (Violante Placido), a prostitute who ultimately wins his heart. Will he finish the gun? Will the Swedes kill him? Will he marry the prostitute? You’ll find out if you can stay awake.
The film is based upon Martin Booth’s 1990 novel titled “A Very Private Gentleman,” and in the movie’s production notes, director Anton Corbijn (“Control”), offered an interesting analysis of why he embarked upon the project and how he compares it to the Western genre.
“I started reading thriller scripts. The theme of ‘The American’ of a loner trying to find redemption from the deeds he’s done, interested me – as did the tension and the romance in the story. Here was something I saw could be not only suspenseful but also thoughtful. I haven’t seen all that many movies in my life, but Westerns have long made an impression on me, starting with – in childhood – Rawhide [the 1960s TV series starring Clint Eastwood]. The look, the stories, the morality of movie Westerns always attracted me. Although ‘The American’ is not actually a Western, it is structured in that genre; a stranger comes to a small town and connects with a couple of the people in it, but his past catches up with him – and there is a shootout.”
After sitting through this film, I really can’t see any way that it can be compared to the class western series “Rawhide.” The movie contains very little action and even less dialogue. But the women who love to look at Clooney will be in their element with this film. There are long close-up scenes of Clooney’s face while he’s driving. There are close-ups of his face while he is sleeping. We get to see him doing push-ups and chin-ups without wearing a shirt. And then there are more close-ups of his face as he is making the weapon.
Throughout the film Clooney imbues his character with all of the enthusiasm of a somnambulist. He very rarely changes expression, and to call what he does acting is an insult to such outstanding practitioners of the craft as Johnny Depp, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, Al Pacino, Dustin Hoffman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and all others who weren’t graduated from the Keanu Reeves School of Acting.
And if the lack of action and dialogue weren’t bad enough, the ending of the film is so contrived that it’s laughable. I certainly won’t spoil it by revealing what happens, but I defy you to suppress a smile when and if you see it.
“The American” (Let’s give it a final score of 3.5 for some nice scenery.) is another in a long line of typical Clooney films that make me wonder why they were made in the first place. But I’m sure a comment like that will cause the Clooney lovers out there to consider me un-American.