Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The American - A Lone warrior

George Clooney is an actor I admire. He is the dashing, dishy gentleman with a brilliant twinkle. He ages like fine wine. The movie star gait, charm, mannerisms are found in abundance. All this rightfully makes him one of America's leading stars, a hugely bankable Hollywood name. There also lies within him an intelligent performer who thinks out of the box, a talented filmmaker who makes movies out of the ordinary.  Think 'Syriana', 'Burn after Reading', 'Good night and Good luck'. And thats why he excites me. Because with George Clooney, you never know the surprise this talented actor, that resides within him, will spring on you.

Hearing of him play an assassin in 'The American' adapted from the novel 'A very private gentleman' by Martin Booth, I wasn't sure whether to expect a run of the mill thriller or as I reiterate, a surprise. A mix of the two was my viewing experience. The movie directed by Anton Corbijn (a former still photographer whose love for breathtakingly beautiful shots of the landscape is at play here) tells the story of an assassin going sometimes by the name of Jack and at others Edward. He escapes an attack by his enemies in Sweden and in the process turns the gun on his lady friend to avoid any witness. From this point the scene shifts to an idyllic village in the Abruzzo region of Italy. He is told by his employer to hide here and perform his next assignment, the building of a made to order special gun. This is for a mysterious, sexy assassin (Thekla Reuten) with ever changing hair styles. In the village, he encounters a priest with a past of his own (Paolo Bonacelli) and a prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) who loses her heart to him. 

At the very onset, we see Jack to be cold, withdrawn, perhaps toughened by the nature of his job. An expert with his hands, a good many scenes involve the clinically precise and meticulous assemblance of the gun with a custom made silencer. This suggests a neatness and orderliness in his personality. Truly a man of few words, he spends his time holed in a sparsely furnished space, working out (we do get to see that fabulously toned physique ) and reading a book on butterflies when not assembling that gun. He is wary of forming any attachments which is probably why he seeks a prostitute for pleasure. That, it turns into something meaningful and harbors the hope of a happier, more innocent future is one of the ironies this movie brings out. 

Men who live by the gun always have to look over their shoulders. Which is what defines Jack...a man on the edge, always looking over his shoulders for danger lurking around. The slightest sound makes him jerk up from sleep and its reflex action, his hand points the gun that rests on his body while sleeping. His fear is real. A violent life begets its share of enemies. A particular cat and mouse hunt between him and an assailant in the labyrinth village streets is nail biting in its execution.

But this movie is not just about the action or the thrill. Sure, they happen sporadically. But it is the moments in between, that give the movie its character, is its strength. The study of human nature, if well done, is exhilarating to me. Jack/ Edward is a very interesting man and one of the biggest strengths that the screenplay lends to the movie is in keeping us in the dark about Jack's background. There is no moral story, no reason for us to sympathize with a mercenary, no seeking of obvious redemption here. The priest in the village sees him. "You cannot deny the existence of hell. You live in it. Its a place without love" is his observation of Jack. So, love when it comes in the form of the prostitute, Clara, is a chance he grabs with both hands announcing his plans of retiring to his boss. But is there ever a way out? 

Where the movie falters after building an enigmatically interesting character study, is the thrill and action. Though well executed, it leaves loose ends hanging. While I like to interpret human nature, behavioral patterns my own way, I dislike being unable to connect the dots in scenes that work as a mundane thriller. Since 'The American' is a marriage of the two genres, I come out only half satisfied. That is not to say, I didn't enjoy being surprised by Mr. Clooney's performance. The keeping of his dry wit and that charm at bay, his effective portrayal of a hardened man who probably wants one last chance at the normalcy of life. His expressions in the final car drive, alone is worth the time I invested in this movie.

If you are in the mood of a hardcore thriller, which this movie is mistaken to be by many, skip this as the ride can be slow and the buildup might amount to nothing much. However, it does makes for an interesting study of an enigmatic character, where the layers are never completely peeled.

Available on DVD

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