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Film / The American

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George Clooney is 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 and gunsmith 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:

  • American Title: The film's title refers to the nationality of the protagonist Jack.
  • 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.
  • 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: There is a lot of butterfly symbolism, starting from Jack tattoo and random butterflies showing up in more significant moment.
  • 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... only to be shot seconds later.
  • Contract on the Hitman: Jack's mistakes through the movie eventually lead to this.
  • Gun Stripping: When Jack delivers the gun for Mathilde, it's unassembled. She quickly puts it together without a word.
  • Guns Do Not Work That Way: When Mathilda is adjusting the scope once figuring out the gun is a bit to the left, she uses... elevation knob, not the one for windage. In other words, the gun not only would still fire to the left, but now also slightly too high.
  • 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 quit, making the rest of the story his 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: The job Jack takes on while he's in hiding is to build such a weapon for a female assassin. Downplayed, as it's your average Ruger Mini-14, simply customised for easier stripping and to carry a suppressor.
  • 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: Jack kills his girlfriend in Sweden when she saw him killing a man sent after him.
  • Misidentified Weapons: Jack describes the rifle as "Ruger M14". M14 is a completely different gun and a professional like him shouldn't make such mistakes. He also gives completely random muzzle velocity that not only doesn't match the gun, but is in weird unit (miles/hour, while it's meters or feet per second).
  • Mortal Wound Reveal: The ending has Jack going aroun for few minutes, killing his would-be assassins, then heading to Clara. Only after he's done, it's revealed he's been shot himself and bleeds profusely.
  • Ms. Fanservice:
    • Clara is this. She spends half of her screentime naked.
    • Mathilde's second appearance is her in a very figure-hugging dress and thigh-high boots.
    • Jack's girlfriend is first seen naked in bed, with no Modesty Bedsheet covering her.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The commercials (not so much the trailers) advertise it as a Bourne-style action film. It's really not. It's more of a character study interspersed with bits of action.
  • Neck Snap: Done realistically for once, when Jack disposes of one of the killers.
  • Nerves of Steel: Mathilde tests the silencer by having Jack fire the weapon past her head.
  • One Last Job: Subverted. At first it doesn't start like this, but the stress on Jack's life ultimately leads him to decide to quit once he's done with his current assignment.
  • Properly Paranoid: Jack is a professional killer that has a lot of heat on his back and trying to lay low. He distrusts people by defult, but his paranoia is what keeps him alive, including rigging Mathilde's rifle, assuming she's out to kill him. When she tries to take the shot, the gun explodes in her face.
  • Recycled In Space: It's Le Samouraï IN ITALY!
  • Retirony: While his final fate is left ambigious, it's most likely Jack will die from his wound, right after finishing his last job.
  • Scenery Porn: The film revels in this. It's a Corbijn special.
  • Shout-Out: A scene from Once Upon a Time in the West is playing in a bar, a reference to the Spaghetti Western influence on the film.
  • Skinny Dipping: Clara does it during a picnic and tries to convince Jack to join her. Jack, still wondering if she's an assassin sent after him, declines.
  • Time-Delayed Death: Assuming he actually dies, Jack spends quite a while still going as if nothing, despite apparently fatal wound.
  • Unproblematic Prostitution: There is a well-kept, easy-to-access brothel in the town Jack is staying in. Those were delegalised in Italy in late 50s. Nobody seems to mind.
  • 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.