The cover of this DVD is, depending on which signals you pick up on, either misleading or perfectly accurate. If all you see is George Clooney running with a gun, and you therefore come to the conclusion that this is going to be some action-packed thriller, and that is what you’re hoping for, then you’re going to be disappointed. If, on the other hand, the orange colour and the rather retro look to Cloney’s image, not to mention the rather uninformative title, makes you think of the 1970s, then you’re on the right track.
Clooney plays the titular American, an intelligence operative whose last job results in rather more bloodshed than it should, and people are clearly after him. Nonetheless, he is given a new assignment, and he takes it. He is to craft a specialized assassination rifle, and he does so while holed up in a hillside Italian village. There he meets a priest and a prostitute, encounters that will alter the course of his life.
Action-packed, this film is not, but, if one is willing to meet the film halfway, and take it as it is intended, then it is very suspenseful. We know something is going to happen, but what, when, and to whom, what this will mean or do to Clooney, we do not know. At the end of the road, will he find redemption or damnation? The answers, I believe, are good ones. The performances, meanwhile, are low key and impressive, and the cinematography is breathtaking. This is a film whose varied lineage includes the likes of The Day of the Jackal, The Conversation, and The Passenger, and it is in every sense worthy of its ancestors.
Even viewers not enamored by the film’s stately pace (in other words, bored out of their skulls) must surely grant that this is one beautiful piece of cinema. That pictorial beauty transfers well from the theatre to the home screen. The colours have an almost tactile sharpness to them, the flesh tones are excellent, and it would be hard to imagine a more precise image. The blacks, too, are superb, and there is no grain. The original 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio is preserved.
This is not a loud film. It is, quite pointedly, a quiet one. Even so, great care has gone into the sound design and the audio. The effects may be subtle, but they are very well handled, with even the most delicate of sounds carefully placed. So there is a pretty thorough environment created, even if it is one that doesn’t leap out of the speakers to demand one’s attention. The dialogue is crisp and free of distortion.
Commentary Track: Director Anton Corbijn does spend a fair bit of time explaining the more nuts-and-bolts side of the film – how this scene was film, and where, and so on. But he does discuss the movie’s thematic concerns as well.
Deleted Scenes: (5:36) A montage of clips.
“Journey to Redemption: The Making of The American”: (10:52) A better making-of featurette than most, with the filmmakers discussing the ideas behind the film at least as much as its coming-together. Much is said about its link to classic westerns, which I confess hadn’t occurred to me as I watched it, but makes perfect sense in retrospect.
Clooney has long since left his crowd-pleasing days behind, and a mass-appeal film this ain’t. But if taken in the spirit in which it is intended, it’s a gripping piece of low-key suspense.