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Thursday, Sept. 9, 2010 04:52 am

The American: Portrait of a killer at the crossroads

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After another summer of mindless action movies, Anton Corbijn’s The American is a welcome respite from the drivel Hollywood foists upon us. Whereas Salt, the Bourne films and countless others focus on improbable action sequences and indestructible heroes, this European production concentrates on what makes its characters tick rather than what makes them run. Buoyed by a solid performance from George Clooney, this character study pauses to reflect on the violence men do and the effect it has on its perpetrator.

Jack (Clooney) is an expert assassin who watches his latest assignment go awry in the film’s opening. Realizing he may be getting a bit sloppy or that someone is on his tail, he flees to a small Italian village to gather his thoughts, plot his next move and wait to hear from his contact who eventually offers him a job in which he won’t have to pull the trigger. Instead, Jack crafts a weapon for Ingrid (Irina Bjorklund), a fellow assassin, when he’s not commiserating with the village’s priest (Paolo Bonacelli) or visiting Clara (Violante Placido), a prostitute he’s grown too fond of.

In this film about seclusion, Corbijn uses the tight streets and the small rooms of the rustic village he shot in to underscore the physical and emotional constraints Jack has put upon himself. Clooney, armed with perhaps 10 lines of dialogue and a stern demeanor, gives one of his best performances, conveying his character’s inner turmoil and using his physicality to great effect. Whether quietly pondering his next move, meticulously constructing a weapon that bears more than a passing resemblance to him or briefly letting his guard down, this is a calibrated and unexpectedly poignant turn by the actor. In the end, The American reminds us that the harm we do to ourselves is often more damaging than that which we do to others.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org

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