HNtWYN: The American (A Review)

Jack (played by a shockingly slim George Clooney) is a hare fallen in among wolves.

As The American opens, Jack, an assassin by trade, is comfortably spending some very naked time in a snow-bound cabin in the back woods of Sweden with a beautiful woman after a, presumably, successful job. It ends badly (as it usually does) when a couple of Jack’s Swedish colleagues show up to make a job of him. He escapes to Italy where his agent convinces him to take one last assignment before retiring for good.

Jack is on edge, as he should be after having killed two people (and another for good measure) in the desperate defense of his own life. And in his line of work, paranoia is a professional necessity. He abandons the safe house his agent arranged for him and holes up instead in a little village in the hills of Italy. He has no friends, no attachments. He can’t afford them – it was attachment that nearly got him killed. He has his work, the job, and nothing more.

But that is not what he needs.

The American is a very tight, taut, quiet movie, just like its main character. It makes you listen carefully and watch closely, just as Jack does: Both eyes open and one ear cocked to hear the wolves coming. The movie is filled with long silences broken by low, subtle dialogue. There are no broad gestures, no big explosions or running gun battles. It’s a story told in the lower registers, in the cinematic equivalent of a whisper and in that way makes every word count far more than it otherwise would.

George Clooney’s performance is masterful. God knows what sort of training he had to do to get himself into shape for the role, but it paid off. Jack is lean as a whip, wiry and spare. He conveys a sharp alertness with every look and gesture, and at the same time a desperate hunger. Jack lives under a kind ascetic self-denial. He seems to attend to his body’s needs out of obligation rather than appreciation. He sleeps. He eats. He fucks. All in the same way a warrior would care for his weapon – carefully, precisely, and because it is needful. But the hunger for more seeps through. He makes mistakes. He begins to make attachments.

It can only end badly for Jack. He is, after all, a bad man. When it does, The American does not disappoint. The climax of the movie is as taut and tense as all that went before. Jack is stretched as tight as a wire as the wolves come closing in. It’s hard not to root for the hare, even though we all know how it ends. But, we think, maybe THIS time…

(The American, based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, is in theaters now.)

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