Saturday, January 22, 2022




The beginning is idyllic. We know it’s Sweden because, one, there’s lots of pristine snow and, two, the screen tells us so. Jack (George Clooney) is romancing a lovely Scandinavian lady before a flickering fire. It’s a lovely beginning, followed by a romp across a frozen lake and into the woods. That’s when the film abruptly changes. Someone is after Jack with murder in mind.

Once the situation changes, so does the setting. Jack gets one of many phone calls from his master, Pavel, an ugly, wrinkled obviously nasty type. Like any good samurai, Jack asks no questions, but obeys orders. He winds up in a tiny Italian village where he spends hours toning his body and awaiting contact. It comes in the form of Mathilde, a good-looking babe carrying a folded newspaper (the giveaway in spy movies). There’s not much dialog in this film, so what passes for conversation between the two is one word: “Range?” It seems that Jack’s assignment is to build a very specialized sniper rifle easily and virtually silently capable of snuffing out someone from at least 1,500 meters. At this point Jack is now “Edward”, and who knows what other names? We’re not told very much, and the characters, moving very s-l-o-w-l-y, don’t say very much, so the film depends on two qualities: excellent performances, and gorgeous photography.

Clooney is superb. He relies on minimal gestures and a handful of facial expressions – an eye flicker, a twist of a corner of his mouth, a chew of gum – or is it his tongue? He befriends only two people, a portly old priest and a comely young prostitute. Both of them have troubled pasts. We’re told just enough to start questioning what’s going on. But, don’t expect Bruce Willis and slam bang, in your face action. This film is based on the French “Le Samourai”, a form of minimalist film noir. Many viewers may feel unfulfilled and unhappy about “The American” because it is slow and quiet. Clooney, the samurai, is an expert mechanic. He can build a sound suppressor out of junked parts from a garage. Is he also a hit man? Are the priest and/or the prostitute going to betray him?

Not only is “The American” visually beautiful; the acting is impeccable. Prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) and Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) transport us to the reality of life in a poor Italian village. The credits bear out the European genesis of this movie: most of the actors and technicians are Italian; the Director, Anton Corbijn, is Dutch.

A basic piece of the story is a large butterfly tattooed on Jack’s back. Why is he preoccupied with butterflies? Why do some characters call him “Mr. Butterfly”? And, why is Jack/Edward so vulnerable to love? Why was Jack a target in Sweden? Who is after him? The questions are pieces that fit one another much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. But, not everyone will be patient enough to put it together. “The American” is not really an “American” movie.

Monte Lazarus is currently on Marco Island’s Planning Board but escapes frequently to enjoy and report on movies.

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