Tuesday, January 18, 2011


This gets my vote for being the most misunderstood and/or most underrated movie of 2010 (after Polanski's 'The Ghost Writer'). This seemed to come and go in the theater faster than i could remember probably because many people (myself included) avoided it due to word of mouth and a few bad reviews. After finally seeing this a few weeks ago, i must admit that this movie was very good. It had a few problems, but it was still very good. I just don't think people were expecting an existential hitman drama/thriller. I mean, look at the official movie poster. Its such an awesome throwback to the old action films of the 1960's and 70's. Not only is 'The American' the most underrated movies of last year, but the movie poster is probably in the top 3 movies posters of 2010. I remember when I first saw the poster and was immediately reminded of films like 'Point Blank' or 'Bullit'. I imagine people saw it, and expected a thrilling, fast pace, non-stop action film along the lines of 'The Professional'. But what they really got was something along the lines of 'Ghost Dog', which was another hitman movie that got a bad rep upon its initial release but now has somewhat of a cult following (especially from the hip-hop community thanks to The RZA). Its almost eerie how much Ghost Dog and The American go hand in hand with one another. Both stories are about assassins, yet there isn't much "action" in either film. Both have minimal dialogue (when compared to your average movie) and have similar endings. And both performances echo that of Alain Delon in a Jean Pierre Melville movie (specifically 'Le Samourai', which Ghost Dog is a loose remake of). In fact, The American reminded me of 'Limits of Control', which was Jim Jarmusch's second existential hitman film after 'Ghost Dog'. Even though I'm not a fan of 'Limits of Control' it took a lot of balls to make that and i give Jim Jarmusch respect for not compromising and making a typical shoot 'em up hitman movie.

In 'The American' Clooney plays a hitman who has to go in to hiding after a botched assignment. He's so disturbed with what happened on that last job that he tells his employers that his next killing assignment will be his last. I actually kinda found this aspect of the movie interesting. Its almost like director; Anton Corbijn was trying to explore the world of post traumatic stress through the eyes of an assassin. I liked it but i could see how others would call bullshit on something like that. After waiting a few days he gets his next mission: to simply build a custom riffle for an assassination (that he wont be executing) of who we're lead to believe is a priest or some religious figure (there's plenty of religious symbolism all through out the film). For something that's supposed to be his last mission, Clooney's character finds this assignment too good to be true and believes his employers are setting him up. For the rest of the movie Clooney's paranoia starts to get the best of him. Naturally there's a love interest. While Clooney is in Italy he falls for a prostitute named Clara (i know. i found this part of the movie a little hard to believe too). Her character is a bit mysterious through out the movie, and we don't see her true intentions until the very end. Clooney's paranoia has him contemplating weather of not she can be trusted. There's also a rival hitman (er...hitWOMAN) employed by the same people as Clooney and he soon worries that she may be the one who's going to carry out his execution.

Now, this movie isn't perfect. One of its main faults is the films deliberate pace (or lack of pace for that matter). Sometimes it just seems slow on purpose. Its almost like Anton Corbijn thought that the slower he made the film, the "cooler" it would seem. Don't get me wrong, the movie is very "cool", but sometimes it tries to hard. This is Anton Corbijn's 2nd feature film (the Joy Division Biopic; 'Control' was his first). He still needs to break out of his music video directing habits. Even though both 'Control' and 'The American' are good films, sometimes they feel like 2 hour long music videos instead of movies. I still love the fact that Corbijn paid homage to the classic action films like the ones i mentioned earlier ('Bullit', 'Le Samourai' and 'Point Blank') as well as others like 'Le Circle Rouge' and 'The Night of the Following Day' (a forgotten about Marlon Brando action thriller from the late 60's). Another positive thing about 'The American' is that it brought back the art of movie poster art, which has kinda been lacking over the years, with a few exception here and here ('Funny Games 2007' and Uncle Boonmee...' for example). Bottom line, if you have the patience chances are you'll enjoy 'The American'.

The examples above ('Point Blank' & 'Bullit') aren't the only great movie posters that had an influence on 'The American'. Other films like 'The Sergant' and 'Cool Hand Luke' could also be looked at as inspiration. From the placement and style of the text on the posters, the bold background colors (orange in 'The American', purple in 'The Sergent', blue in 'cool hand luke', etc) to the offsetting of the image of main character, these posters are a true representation of "cool". The kind you'd want to hang up in your home...

and 'The American' is just one of quite a few films bringing back phenomenal poster artwork...


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