When it comes to assassin movies, audiences expect one of two things to happen: a) the assassin will sympathize with his or her target and refuse to kill, thus forcing them into a situation they have to fight their way out of or b) the assassin will decide they want out and then be forced to fight their employer. Virtually all assassin movies take one of these two routes and so if Hollywood is going to insist on making movies about assassins, they have to find something different to do with them. Unfortunately, THE AMERICAN failed to pave a new path and instead continued to tread on the well-beaten path of previous assassin films.
I was enamored with the way director Anton Corbijn shot the film, using the Italian backdrop as a supporting character for Clooney. And much like UP IN THE AIR, Clooney’s character was developed by having the audience watch him do boring, mundane things like doing push-ups and building a gun. But these things are important as this is really the only thing that develops his character. That’s a double edged sword for the film because although the style was enjoyable, the slow, meticulous pace needed a bigger, more original payoff than what we ended up with. Through the entire film, I kept hoping that it wasn’t going to choose one of those two paths and when it did, I was severely disappointed with everyone involved.
I can’t stand heaping praise on people that receive so much of it, but George Clooney deserves all the credit in the world for making the audience care about his character. When it comes to acting, Clooney is on a whole new level and he can make any character cool. In this, he creates a character that we never learn anything about but we still root for him to “win” in the end. Unfortunately, because the biggest driver of this film is Clooney’s coolness, the audience struggles to get completely attached to him and therefore that “win” doesn’t seem as important and the inevitable failure to win kind of feels anticlimactic.
The inclusion of a pseudo-love story between him and Clara was another obvious progression. But again, we’ve seen that result before where a loner, self-exiled man falls for a prostitute with the heart of gold. But credit needs to be given to screenwriter Rowan Joffe for not making too much of it and not having it progress to something we couldn’t respect. The relationship made sense and served its purpose.
The appeal of assassins in Hollywood makes perfect sense. An assassin sounds like a cool, mysterious jobs with many layers to uncover. Which is why I was excited that Clooney had chosen to play an assassin in THE AMERICAN. But overall, this is a film that I felt like I’d seen before. Assassins have had many incarnations on film and now that the path is so worn out, the pressure is on the filmmakers to do something new and different with it. Yes, Clooney was great and yes, Corbijn shot the film beautifully, but the story wasn’t enough to keep us involved.