America's No. 1 movie, coincidentally named "The American," is not what you'd call an especially fun movie, but it earns that top spot. It gets you interested. You're interested in how the antihero, despite his bleak outlook, does his dirty job.
The setup is familiar: a criminal decides it's time to get out of the game and is given one last job. George Clooney's criminal is a combination hitman and weapon-maker who starts off by the name of Jack. Jack is determined to control everything he can about himself, even if this means keeping himself in a constant state of longing.
When we first see him, he's taking some time away from guns in favor of a girlfriend, but his grim expression tells us he knows this attempt at a normal life is only temporary. At some point it will come to a screeching halt, probably with some blood involved. Soon, Jack is fleeing from one Italian town to another to try to throw his boss off his scent. By this time, he's going by Edward. Who knows if Jack was even his real name?
But duty calls, and Jack eventually does contact the boss who gives him his final assignment. He will meet another assassin and design a custom killing machine for her.
Jack is all about control. Every move he makes exudes this. He's a meticulous craftsman, especially with weapons, which he can build from scratch. How he talks to people, even his walk, is carefully thought out. After all, conflicted killers need control, what with so many people trying to kill them all the time. Jack just wishes he didn't need that.
Being in the killing business isn't easy. And, as Jack knows, neither is walking away after the final job. The employers never seem to allow it. Other work hazards include constantly looking over his shoulder. And relationships just can't happen. Friendship and love are stricly taboo, and Jack chooses the path that keeps them this way. The relationships he develops are little more than one-sided in his favor. He takes the attentions of others, most notably an eagerly friendly minister and a prostitute, without offering back much of himself. This is another compelling thing about Jack. His relationships keep you guessing as to whether he holds back in order to protect himself or them - or maybe he's just too deep in thought.
That's the intriguing part of this film. You can't stop guessing what's going on inside Jack's head at any given moment. Very little is said throughout much of the movie, particularly by Clooney's character, despite the fact that he's in almost every scene. This fits not only with the noir style the movie's aiming for, but also with the character -ack seems to be the type who just doesn't feel like talking.
"The American" is worth viewing once. If nothing else, you get a taste of the European-style noirs of the 1970s that this film is plainly influenced by. Like those, it's told more through emotion than dialogue. But a good conflicted killer should keep you guessing what's on his mind.
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