Film: The American

The American is a 2010 drama film by director Anton Corbijn (most known for directing Control and numerous U2 music videos). Adapted from Martin Booth's 1990 novel A Very Private Gentleman (in which the protagonist is actually English), it follows George Clooney as Jack, a lonesome assassin who, after some enemies track him down to his remote cabin in Sweden, moves to a remote village in Italy to lay low. What follows is a character study of a man who lives a very rigid, lonely life due to his career. He befriends the local priest, and starts a relationship with Clara, a prostitute in the area.

Taut, featuring beautiful cinematography, and poor marketing, The American is notable for how it subverts the tropes common in the hitman movie, not so much by lampshading them, but simply by using them to the advantage of the film's contemplative tone.

Tropes in this film:

  • Alas, Poor Villain: Jack looks pretty close to death near the end.
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: Jack ends up rigging Mathilde's gun to do this once he figures out she's been contracted to kill him.
  • Being Personal Isn't Professional: Jack is advised by his handler not to make friends, but is unable to stick to this rule.
  • Blond Guys Are Evil: The Swedes are hunting Jack down after all. The blond assassin in the middle of the film exemplifies this.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The film itself leaves Jack's fate as to whether or not he survives up in the air.
  • Butterfly of Death and Rebirth
  • Classically Trained Extra: The older Swedish Audience may recoginze an old, but respectable and (of course) classically trained stage actor turning up at the start of the movie... to be shot seconds later.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Jack's mistakes through the movie eventually lead to this.
  • Gun Stripping
  • Hidden Depths: While it's early seen that Jack is a skilled and ruthless professional, a large curveball is thrown when it's shown his back tattoo is not another military emblem or Biblical passage... but a butterfly. He's later shown reading a book on butterflies and asks Mathilde not to move when an endangered species lands on her shoulder.
  • Hitman with a Heart: Subverted since Jack opens the movie by shooting his girlfriend because she's a witness to him killing a man. The kill weighs on his mind and fuels his desire to make this One Last Job.
  • Hollywood Silencer: Averted. Jack stresses he can modify a rifle with a "suppressor," but it will mostly just mask where the shot is coming from. When it's tested, there's still a loud CRACK! from each shot, and the accuracy is significantly affected.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Clara is this. Subverted when it looks like she's an assassin out to get Jack. Double subverted when she's got a gun simply because someone is killing prostitutes.
  • Ikea Weaponry / Briefcase Blaster: The job Jack takes on while he's in hiding is to build such a weapon for a female assassin.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Mathilde is killed by the gun she ordered. You could also regard Jack being targeted by the gun he's built as the same.
  • Leave No Witnesses: Played straight when Jack kills his girlfriend in Sweden.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution
  • Wham Line: When Clara calls Jack Mr. Butterfly, a name we have only seen given to him by Mathilde. The film leaves it ambiguous whether this actually meant anything.
  • Window Love: Apparently dying of a mortal wound, Jack drives to the river and, seeing Clara standing there, presses his bloody fingers to the windshield before collapsing.