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Anton Corbijn
George Clooney, Irina Björklund, Lars Hjelm, Johan Leysen, Paolo Bonacelli, Giorgio Gobbi, Thekla Reuten
Writing Credits:
Rowan Joffe, Martin Booth (novel)

Academy Award® winner George Clooney is The American in this sexy suspense thriller from director Anton Corbijn. After a job ends more violently than expected, Jack (Clooney) retreats to the Italian countryside and accepts one last assignment to construct a deadly weapon for a mysterious contact. But when he pursues a relationship with a beautiful local woman, he may be tempting fate by stepping out of the shadows. Jack soon finds himself in an escalating battle to escape from his secretive past, in the film critics are calling “4 Stars! Riveting and irresistible!” (Joe Neumaier, NY Daily News)

Box Office:
$20 million.
Opening Weekend
$16.662 million on 2823 screens.
Domestic Gross
$35.596 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 105 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 12/28/2010

• Audio Commentary with Director Anton Corbijn
• Deleted Scenes
• “Journey to Redemption: The Making of The American” Featurette


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The American [Blu-Ray] (2010)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 31, 2010)

Though many trailers misrepresent movies to attract viewers, few stretch this as far as the ads for 2010’s The American. Those promos made the film look like a taut thriller, while the end result landed in a place far, far away from that depicted genre. Oh, it boasts some of the requisite elements, but mostly it offers a subdued character piece.

One can forgive viewers who felt hoodwinked. I know I did, as I expected a George Clooney action flick and got an arty character piece instead.

That doesn’t mean that American can’t be good if one adjusts expectations. Is it good? Mileage varies, of course, but I think it’s a drowsy dud.

A skilled assassin named Jack (George Clooney) goes into seclusion while he awaits one final job. He takes up residency in a small Swiss town and gets to know Clara (Violante Placido), a local prostitute with whom he starts to fall in love. Jack ponders the nature of his life and career while he also attempts to avoid potential threats.

Perhaps my expectations of an action thriller would’ve been curtailed if I’d known in advance that Anton Corbijn directed it. Probably best-known due to his photography of U2 – he shot the cover to The Joshua Tree and many other noted images – Corbijn’s only prior big-screen directorial effort was 2007’s Control. That was a biopic for musician Ian Curtis, so given Corbijn’s history, he remained in familiar territory.

That made American a stretch, and Corbijn lacked the skill to make it a successful stretch. At its core, American provides a 70s-style European character drama. Clooney’s presence opened the door for its marketing to the multiplex masses, but that was completely the wrong audience for it. I’m sure this helped the bottom line; American earned $35 million versus the $100,000 or so it’d have made without Clooney.

I’d be curious to find out how many of those viewers felt satisfied with the film. I’d guess the number ranges from “a handful” to “exceedingly few”, though I could be wrong; a look at IMDB shows an average rating of 6.6 out of 10, and more than half rated it between 6 and 8, so most of its IMDB audience liked it well enough.

Personally, I can’t say I actively disliked it, but I didn’t find a whole lot to enjoy about it. With one exception, that is: the exceedingly lovely Placido, who spends much of her time onscreen in various stages of undress. Heck, she’s worth a “6” rating all on her own. (And the film doesn’t leave out the ladies: Clooney goes shirtless a few times and also bares his butt in one scene.)

Without the occasional stimulation provided by Placido, I’m not sure I would’ve stayed awake. My complaint stems less from the false advertising I described earlier and more from the simple lack of drama on display. While American wants to be a deep character study, instead it just feels like a plodding exercise in nothingness.

That’s because Jack starts as a mystery and ends as one. Though Clooney appears in virtually every scene, the film does exceptionally little to flesh out his character. No, I don’t expect it to provide cheap and easy backstory, but it’d be nice to get a better handle on his life and motivations. Beyond the cliché of the bad man who wants to end his sordid ways, the film doesn’t demonstrate any arc.

Indeed, American does tend to traffic in clichés. In addition to Jack, we get the hooker with a heart of gold and the priest who tries to restore the lead’s humanity. None of them offer anything more than basic personality sketches; if Jack can’t emerge as a full-fledged character with all that screen time, the others have no shot either.

At least Clooney gives it his best shot. He leaves his standard cocky charm on the shelf and lends a dark, haunted quality to Jack. To Clooney’s credit, he doesn’t overdo this. He easily could’ve tried so hard to make Jack the opposite of his standard persona that the character became a caricature. Clooney doesn’t have much to work with, but he does what he can.

Too much of American feels undercooked, unfortunately. It simply takes a long time to go anywhere, and it never provides a particularly involving journey. Yes, Jack does experience growth as a character, but that path doesn’t feel fresh or original, and the film’s inability to develop the personalities harms it.

This means we’re left with… not much. For instance, we find endless shots of Jack at work on the weapon he was hired to create. I understand these exist to illustrate the character’s insular, lonely existence, but they nearly exist in isolation; without much else to give the movie life, we’re left with tedium.

I will say that American plays better on second viewing, mostly because it means the viewer comes to it with appropriate expectations. Even with that understanding, though, it still lacks enough depth to make it involving. It’s not an awful movie, but it’s awfully slow.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B-

The American appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, the movie came with an appealing presentation.

Only the slightest hint of softness ever appeared, and this made a couple of wide shots look just a wee bit tentative. Those were clearly in the minority, though, as almost every scene seemed tight and concise. I witnessed no signs of shimmering or jaggies, and neither edge haloes nor noise reduction created distractions. Print flaws also failed to appear, as he movie stayed clean and clear.

Expect a fairly chilly palette here. Some scenes opted for other hues – the yellow street lamps, the red lighting of the brothel – but usually the flick went with a cold, somewhat desaturated look. This was fine, and the transfer brought out the appropriate colors. Blacks seemed deep and dense, while shadows presented good clarity and presence. I felt almost totally pleased with this excellent image.

While not as impressive, the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 suited the story. This meant it didn’t have a whole lot to do, though a few quick action scenes opened it up on occasion. When these occurred, they worked well; they added zip to an otherwise restrained mix.

Outside of the action scenes, the mix stayed with gentle ambience. The track conveyed the quiet settings in a satisfying manner, as it used the side and rear channels to display soft atmosphere. Music also provided positive stereo spread.

Audio quality was fine. When asked to present louder material – which wasn’t often – the material seemed vivid and accurate. Quieter elements appeared equally solid, as the various effects were more than adequate.

Speech became the film’s most dominant element. Lines sounded concise and natural, without edginess or other concerns. Music was full and robust, so the score satisfied. Nothing much here impressed, but the material felt perfectly appropriate for the usually quiet character drama.

We get a few extras here. These start with an audio commentary from director Anton Corbijn. He presents a running, screen-specific look at cinematography and music, cast and performances, sets and locations, story/character topics, influences, and a smattering of additional areas.

Corbijn provides an average commentary. On the positive side, he offers a good array of notes related to the production, so we learn a reasonable amount about it. However, he often tends toward narration; at times, he does little more than describe the action onscreen. Corbijn still gives us enough to keep us with him, but he doesn’t make this a consistently involving discussion.

Journey to Redemption: The Making of The American runs 10 minutes, 52 seconds and features notes from Corbijn, producers Anne Carey and Grant Heslov, production designer Mark Digby, and actors Thekla Reuten and Violante Placido. The show looks at themes and inspirations, story and characters, cast and performances, the film’s visual style and what Corbijn brings to it, locations and shooting in Italy. At barely 10 minutes, “Journey” doesn’t have a lot of time to explore areas. Nonetheless, it does reasonably well for itself, and it includes enough good behind the scenes footage to make it worth a look.

Five Deleted Scenes fill a total of five minutes, 34 seconds. Across these, we get… not much. We find a few more little character moments and see what happened to the cell phone Jack threw out his car window, but I can’t say any of them add anything to the story.

Audiences who expected a brisk action thriller from The American left disappointed. Audiences who expected an insightful character drama probably felt about the same way. While not a bad movie, American lacks the depth and creativity to make it more than a plodding piece of tedium. The Blu-ray comes with excellent picture, reasonably good audio and some decent supplements. I think the Blu-ray presents the movie well, but the flick itself does little for me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.2727 Stars Number of Votes: 11
3 3:
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