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'The American' delivers quiet suspense

Article Published: Sep. 9, 2010 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
'The American' delivers quiet suspense

George Clooney stars in The American.

Funny enough, The American seems more European.

Oceans apart from the high-octane, erratically shot suspense thrillers that are far too common in mainstream cinema, The American is a quiet, well-shot drama that derives its suspense through effective writing and brilliant camera work.

Style definitely benefits substance, as director Anton Corbijn (Control) keeps The American's pace firmly in check, a slow - but hardly comfortable - walk with its protagonist.

George Clooney (Up in the Air) delivers an unusually subdued, but well-played, performance as Edward Clark, a perpetually traveling hitman/weapon craftsman whose real name is never revealed. As he works primarily in Europe, he's only acknowledged by various locals for his nationality - American.

When not completing hits himself, Clark builds specialized weapons for assassins to fit the parameters of their missions. After his cover's nearly jeopardized following a job in Sweden, his handler (Johan Leysen, Brotherhood of the Wolf) instructs him to lay low in the small Italian village of Abruzzo, while crafting a weapon for assassin Mathilde (Thekla Reuten, In Bruges).

As Clark goes about his task, viewers are placed in his shoes through clever cinematography - subtle, but enough to convey a foreboding sense of isolation and paranoia, where death could be hiding anywhere, be it an alleyway, cafe or lakeside.

At all times, he's looking over his shoulder to make sure it isn't, living in a purgatory of his own design.

Intent on steering clear of the locals in order to preserve his anonymity, the emotionally isolated Clark gives in to his need for human contact, befriending a kindly priest (Paolo Bonacelli, Mission: Impossible III) and falling in love with, go figure, a golden-hearted prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido, Fade to Black) - or is she?

With potential enemies all around, Clark grows increasingly paranoid and tired of his mentally exhausting lifestyle, and each day in Abruzzo convinces him this latest mission should be his last.

Fittingly, we're never able to connect with Clark. Apart from his actions on screen, viewers are left in the dark about his background, forced to take the same perspective of the locals he encounters - only knowing he's an American.

To say The American moves at an ambling pace would be inaccurate; it creeps along with its protagonist through his mentally harrowing journey.

But creeping has never been so beautiful.

The settings are absolutely stunning, from the pristine snow-scapes of Sweden to the picturesque vistas of Italy. Corbijn and company use scene framing to exceptional effect, with slow-panning shots taking in the grandeur of Clark's surroundings and also instilling a distinct sense of his isolation.

The American's not for everyone, as demonstrated by numerous sighs and disgruntled remarks from several cinema-goers, and during the movie at that.

Granted, these were the kind of audience members who loudly offer an unnecessary play-by-play commentary, saying things like, "Oh, he's loading the gun. Now he's going to shoot it. See? He shot it. Oh no!"

That's simply annoying, but comments like "All he does is drive around" and "Well, that was a boring movie" can be blamed on poor marketing and misleading advertising.

The American's not so much a suspense thriller as it is a suspenseful character study - a surprisingly refreshing entry in American cinema.

The American, rated R for violence, sexual content and nudity, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone.

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