This one's for the ladies...
Although this movie made 12 mil during its opening week in the box office, I have to wonder if it wouldn’t have averaged better if it didn’t alienate its female audience in the first five minutes. George Clooney, as the precocious Jack, trudges alongside his lover near their secluded picturesque cabin, out for a winter stroll. Suddenly Swedes with guns burst from the snow banks above them, only to be brought down by Clooney. “Get to the house, call the police” He bids, and the moment she turns, he plugs her in the back of the head with a bullet. This may be the highest and lowest point of the movie, and it’s all over in the first scene.
For anyone still sympathetic to the main character after such a startling introduction, congratulations you’re probably a sociopath. He even goes so far to explain to his handler that she wasn’t a traitor. She was, apparently, just in the wrong place at the wrong time (his bed). This one regretful lament colors the rest of the film and haunts him through a long string of prostitutes, girlfriends, and attractive clients, until he’s wading hip-deep through half-naked European women, wearing a perpetually glum look on his face.
If it weren’t for Clooney’s ability to infect the audience with his mood, The American would be a colossally boring film. We watch him adapt to his new shell of a life, working again for his old organization. He orders parts and builds guns for dangerous clients, tests rifles, drills and fills bullets like a one-man machine shop, and constructs professional grade silencers out of an auto mechanic’s scraps. He breaks bread with an equally emotional priest and stares at butterflies in the woods. And, when the mood strikes him, he contemplates shooting more women who’ve gotten too close. If the main character had a beergut and a Dixie flag he’d be a melancholy gunsmith.
Most action-dramas save us the tedium of preparation before a secret mission. We don’t see the long hours in Q’s lab where the ammo is repacked and the lasers are charged, nor do we see the care that’s taken in attaching rockets to a sports car. All we see is the end result; Bond blowing the hell out of tanks and kicking ass. A few movies can focus on the precision of planning and still manage to juggle in some good action, The Jackal, Ronin, Munich. The American, as an action, flatlines by comparison.
One byproduct of watching this film is I now plan on reading A Very Private Gentleman, a novel written by Martin Booth. I feel like there is too much unexplained in the film, too much that couldn’t be conveyed through George Clooney’s troubled eyebrows, or the subtle bits of dialogue and music drops. Killer he may be, I still find the characters fascinating enough to want to know more. Without sitting through the movie a second time.
And a side note for anyone else who saw this film: The ‘special rifle’ he builds is a Mini-14, a stable but notoriously inaccurate weapon. Apparently the big scope fixes all.