While "The American" arrived in theaters and was met with mixed reviews, one has to wonder why: maybe the expectations of more action from a film that may have been thought to be too subtle. If that's the case, that's too bad, as this slow-boil thriller/drama remains a captivating, rather old-school production that is a very fine effort from widely known music video director Anton Corbijn. This is a quiet, well-crafted film that comes together in a subtle, creative, and occasionally surprising way.
Jack (George Clooney) is an American assassin that has been in the same line of work for years. While overseas, his most recent job doesn’t go as he planned, and a group of people are out to kill him. He escapes to Italy and while there, he accepts one last job from a woman named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who hires him to build a weapon. While there are other elements at play, the story really is about Jack starting to slowly let go of his need to always look over his shoulder, especially after he meets Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and love interest, prostitute Clara (Violante Placido). As Jack starts to let go, there are other elements building around him, slowly building tension as other forces begin to creep in and look to disrupt Jack's life. The movie does an excellent job crafting slow-boil tension and developing the arc of the Clooney character.
There are more positives than negatives to this film, one standout being George Clooney, who offers a convincing portrayal. While I initially couldn't stand Clooney and his early head down/eyes up bit (among other mannerisms), it's really rather impressive how much the actor has improved over the years. The remaining cast are also great. Placido and Reuten are memorable in their roles, as are Bonacelli and Johan Leysen as Pavel, Jack’s boss. Of course, “The American” is not just about the performances - this film relies heavily on vision, and director Anton Corbijn clearly came with a vision that not only enhanced the overall esthetic of the film, but was the structure that supported the subtle, memorable direction the film takes from beginning to end. Technically, the film is a delight, with stellar cinematography and solid editing work.
“The American” comes together in a powerful way that doesn’t rely on unnecessary tactics to get a reaction. While it may not appeal to everyone, especially those excepting something different, it’s certainly worth a look. Again, the picture is a positive step back in time, emphasizing storytelling and the journey rather than quick edits and flashy sequences. The lead effort from Clooney is another enjoyable step forward for the actor's career, and Corbijn certainly adds his name to the list of music video directors who have gone forth and created bold cinematic efforts, such as Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.
VIDEO: "The American" is presented by Universal in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC). The transfer is a first-rate effort, smoothly and crisply presenting the film's marvelous cinematography. Clarity and detail are very pleasing throughout much of the picture, with no specks, marks or other dirt on the print used. A few slight instances of edge enhancement were spotted, but these were hardly a distraction. No pixelation or other, additional faults were spotted. Colors looked spot-on, with excellent saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: The film is presented in DTS-HD 5.1. Much like the film overall, the sound mix isn't flashy, but does occasionally bring the rear speakers into play to deliver some effective ambience and sound effects. Audio quality is terrific, with crisp, clear dialogue and a well-recorded score.
“Deleted Scenes” - as with most deleted scenes, these don’t add too much to the film, but they don’t take away from it either.
“Journey to Redemption: The Making of ‘The American’”- The making of feature is fairly straightforward and offers some behind-the-scenes footage and a decent amount of information regarding making the film.
“Feature Commentary with Director Anton Corbijn ” - Corbijn’s commentary is engrossing and provides a decent amount of information and detail.
Final Thoughts: “The American” comes together in a powerful way that doesn’t rely on unnecessary tactics to get a reaction. While it may not appeal to everyone, it’s certainly worth a look. The Blu-Ray edition boasts very nice audio/video quality, as well as a few good supplements.
The Film B+