Amer­i­can idle

The Amer­i­can, thriller, in English and Ital­ian with sub­ti­tles, rated R, 105 min­utes, Re­gal Sta­dium 14, 1.5 chiles

Pasatiempo - - Moving Images - Jonathan Richards

An­ton Cor­bijn is Dutch, and The Amer­i­can plays as if he were con­vinced that he was work­ing in full Euro­pean au­teur mode when he made it. There are starkly beau­ti­ful Swedish win­ter­scapes and wind­ing roads through the Ital­ian coun­try­side; there are me­dieval hill towns and lovely naked women. There is a quiet hero, tough as cured leather, and be­set by in­ner doubts. There is very lit­tle said.

When there is di­a­logue, it has the ef­fect of mak­ing you grate­ful for the si­lences, so that works out to be a good thing.

The hero is Jack. He’s the Amer­i­can, the one af­ter whom the movie is named. There is no par­tic­u­lar rea­son for him be­ing Amer­i­can. The movie might have been more ef­fec­tive if he’d been played by some­one less fa­mil­iar to U.S. au­di­ences, like Mads Mikkelsen ( Casino Royale’s Le Chiffre), only then it would have to be called “The Dane.”

But Jack is played by Ge­orge Clooney, so the die is cast. And when Ge­orge Clooney is the an­chor of your movie, it prob­a­bly is not go­ing to work out as an au­teurist Euro­pean art film. Hollywood stars have an aura of fa­mil­iar­ity and glam­our that they bring to the party. I like Ge­orge Clooney. But he’s not a brood­ing loner. And here, de­prived for the most part of speech and de­prived fully of charm and per­son­al­ity, he uses up the movie’s oxy­gen with­out ever ex­hal­ing any of it.

This movie is so se­ri­ous about its pre­ten­sions that none of it makes any sense. Sense would ap­pear to have been banned from the project as de­lib­er­ately as di­a­logue and per­son­al­ity. Lots of peo­ple get shot, but we sel­dom have much of a clue why. We open in Swe­den, where some mys­te­ri­ous Swedes are out to get Jack, for rea­sons we never learn. The Swedish girl who has dis­played her rump in a con­tem­pla­tive open­ing scene be­fore get­ting dressed to go out with him for a walk in the snow is star­tled to find that Jack car­ries a gun. “You have a gun?” she ex­claims. “Why would you have a gun?” In real life, that might be a rea­son­able ques­tion. But in a movie as di­vorced from re­al­ity as this one, the an­swer can only be, as Ge­orge Mal­lory said of Mount Ever­est, “Be­cause it’s there.” It’s an ex­is­ten­tial fact. The movie is young, and there are still a lot of peo­ple to be killed.

Jack is soon off to Rome, where he meets up with Pavel (Johan Ley­sen), who ap­pears to be his han­dler, but in what cause or or­ga­ni­za­tion is any­body’s guess. Jack is feel­ing testy, hav­ing al­ready had to kill a friend, which seems to have put him in a bad mood. Pavel tells him Rome is a lit­tle too hot for him right now — we don’t know why — and gives him a car and tells him to go cool his heels in Abruzzo and await in­struc­tions. “Above all,” Pavel warns drily, “don’t make any friends, Jack. You used to know that.”

So off Jack goes, through the beau­ti­ful wind­ing roads of the Ital­ian coun­try­side, to Abruzzo. There he makes friends with the lo­cal priest, Fa­ther Benedetto (Paolo Bona­celli), and with Clara (Vi­olante Placido), a work­ing girl in the lo­cal brothel. She is gor­geous, and the friend­ship soon ripens into some­thing deeper. At one point she in­tro­duces him to her friend, who is al­most as beau­ti­ful as she is, and you perk up, won­der­ing in what kinky di­rec­tion this as­pir­ing art film might turn, but no, Jack is not that sort of Amer­i­can. The point of that scene seems to be that the two girls are go­ing to an Amer­i­can movie so the friend can work on her English, and for her sake, one only hopes this is not the movie they are go­ing to see.

Jack also meets, but does not be­come friendly with, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), a woman with the looks of a Vogue model and the port­fo­lio of a hired as­sas­sin. The con­tact has been set up by Pavel. In time-hon­ored es­pi­onage drill, Jack and Mathilde sit at ad­join­ing ta­bles in an out­door café, not look­ing at each other, com­mu­ni­cat­ing in stac­cato mono­syl­la­bles about a gun she needs him to make for her, to be used on a hit.

For the rest of the movie, Jack makes the gun, work­ing me­thod­i­cally and silently, tak­ing only oc­ca­sional respite to kill some­one or make love to Clara. On whom will the gun be used? What’s it all about? You may find your­self won­der­ing idly, to pass the time, but there’s no tan­gi­ble build­ing of sus­pense, al­though this is the sort of movie in which bit play­ers over whom the cam­era passes ca­su­ally give mean­ing­ful, sus­pi­cious glances, and mo­tor scoot­ers back­fire like pis­tol re­ports.

Jack has a but­ter­fly on his back, among the sev­eral tat­toos that adorn his of­ten bared torso. This, and a lit­tle busi­ness with an ac­tual but­ter­fly, earn him the nick­name “Mr. But­ter­fly” from Mathilde. This has got to mean some­thing. Does he float like a but­ter­fly and sting like a bee? Is it the “but­ter­fly ef­fect”? Or is it just a hint of a frag­ile sweet soft­ness at the core of this mys­te­ri­ous Amer­i­can?

Who is Jack? He doesn’t seem to be an ac­tual hit man, al­though he is free with the killing. He’s mak­ing a gun for some­one else to use, at the in­struc­tions of a third party who may be work­ing for some­one else, but we will never know the mo­tives or iden­ti­ties of any of these peo­ple (un­less they’re spelled out in Martin Booth’s novel, A Very

Pri­vate Gen­tle­man, upon which this movie is based). In the end, of course, we do at least learn the an­swers to a few of the ques­tions. Very few. And they still don’t make sense.

Just be­cause: Vi­olante Placido and Ge­orge Clooney

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