Roger Ebert — there’ll be a bit more about him later tonight — always says that movies are not what they’re about, but how they’re about it. If so, this new film starring George Clooney is a real test of that thesis because, as pointed out by Jay A. Fernandez, premise-wise “The American” isn’t going to win any prizes for originality. Watch this and I think you’ll see, but if any of you English majors are expecting an adaptation of Henry James’ subtle romance, The American, think again.
Okay, so the trailer doesn’t make the hugest impression and how many “one last job” movies about professional killers and other hardcases have we seen over the years? Still, it’s all in the telling and movies are not trailers. This is the second feature from Anton Corbijn, a rock video director who has worked with U2 and Depeche Mode. His biopic of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis, “Control,” is unseen by me but has won numerous awards and wowed critics. The screenplay for “The American” is by Rowan Joffe (“28 Weeks Later“), adapted from an acclaimed novel by the late Martin Booth, A Very Private Gentleman.
It’s worth noting, however, that the character in the book is not an assassin but an expert gun-maker for assassins. A fine moral distinction, I guess, but it would be nice to learn about those expert gunsmiths who always turn up in these stories. There was a character like that employed by the ruthless murderer of “The Day of the Jackal” back in 1973. Of course, the Jackal was doing one last job himself.