While The American is not a film for all audiences, those who can appreciate slow-paced character studies will highly appreciate it. George Clooney (Up in the Air) plays the central character, Jack. A lot of mystery surrounds Jack. From the opening scene forward, it takes approximately 40 minutes for us to piece together exactly who Jack is and what he does.
Before the opening credits even roll, we see a secluded cabin hidden away in the snow covered mountains of Sweden. We see Jack and an unknown woman comfortably resting naked together in front of a fire – as cheesy as it sounds, they are in a “lover’s embrace.” Cut to the next morning. Bundled up, the two take a romantic stroll across a snowy plain. The sights, sounds and music harmoniously work together to make an aesthetically pleasing experience; ‘romantic’ is the best word to describe it. Jack looks down, sees a fresh set of tracks in the snow and steps into panic mode. He removes a pistol from his pocket – which surprises his lover – and all of a sudden we are thrust into shoot-out thriller.
After that sequence, then the opening credits roll. This is the flowing pattern throughout the rest of the film: highly
romanticized scenes shockingly held together with invisible intensity.
The less you know about The American going into it, the better. Because of the events that transpire in the Swedish mountains, Jack is forced to go into hiding. He chooses the quiet, small town of Castel Del Monte, Italy. There he meets and begins to fall for a beautiful prostitute (Violante Placido) which begins to uncover bits from Jack’s past. He also takes one last insignificant job in Castel Del Monte, one that he can accomplish from the confines of his own home. It is also there that we see the paranoia caused by the events in Sweden nearly destroy him, his life and the relationships with his new Italian friends.
Watching Clooney’s Jack, his actions and reactions, is very reminiscent of watching Mickey Rourke’s Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson in The Wrestler. The only difference between the two is that Jack is trying to escape his past and The Ram was trying to reconnect with his.
The American is also very similar to The Wrestler in the sexuality of its female side characters. Marisa Tomei showed a lot of flesh as stripper in The Wrestler. Violante Placido does the same here as a prostitute. Both characters work in degrading positions that earn them a high amount of prejudice – yet both women are the complete opposite of their assumed stereotypes outside of their looked-down-upon professions.
Essentially, The American and The Wrestler are similar pieces with different styles – both extraordinary examples of brilliant filmmaking, storytelling and acting. If you love The Wrestler, there is no doubt in my mind that you will love The American. If you don’t know either, you should.
Photo credit: Focus Features