Published Sep 02, 2010Jack (George Clooney) is a soul-damaged arms dealer (and sometimes hit man) who has the nickname Mr. Butterfly, but it's based on more than just the tattoo at the nape of his neck. Director Anton Corbijn's panoramic camera lens captures Jack as a lonely man wanting to flutter away from his demons, and thus much of The American is viewed from high above, a butterfly's-eye-view, if you will, as tensions and paranoia unfold in a city perched atop the clouds.
Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, it's safe to assume that Corbijn's intentions for the film version were for a quiet, thoughtful portrayal of Jack doing his last job in the sleepy Italian mountain village. However, the actual result is a far more glamorous, James-Bond-esque hyperrealism. Overused tropes exhausted by the 007 franchise are rehashed: the cold, beautiful lady-killer, played here by Thekla Reuten (in a series of really bad wigs); the high-speed chases and shootouts (replacing cars for scooters; 'tis Italy, after all!); the half-naked-hero-exercising sequences; the waking-up-with-pistol-cocked shot; the lush, extravagant European locations; the prostitute with a heart of gold; and, of course, the Second Amendment, boner-inducing love of all things gun-related.
However, when Clooney casts a glance in any direction, it's one of pure intent, despair and fury that softens the most prickly cliché into a pacifying thing of beauty. The script is cryptic, dark and curt. Nowhere is this best exemplified than in the exchanges between Jack and Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), a holy man with a detective streak who sees everything and through everyone. His line, "You're American, you think you can escape history. You live for the present" reveals more back-story on Jack than what he reveals himself.
The script's strength is its ability to keep us guessing and questioning until the final frame fades out, and Corbijn dovetails this effect with interesting angles and shots where faces are shadowed or cut-off at key moments of dialogue. The more we learn about Jack, the less of him we see.
However, the love affair with prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) doesn't ring true, even though Jack and her exchange many intense, voracious words and looks (not to mention fluids). Their "Let's run away... together... forever" proclamations are cringe worthy at best, nullifying the third act's climax, resulting in a big, dull, dud. (Alliance)