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<i>The American</i>: Loved by Italians, Hated by Swedes, Big on Butterflies

With a title like The American (the book it's based on is called A Very Private Gentleman), I expected this movie to be one big metaphor for how the U.S. is perceived abroad, especially since the title character is an assassin by trade, hiding out among simple Italian townspeople. And maybe it is: Clooney's butterfly-admiring killer Jack barely speaks the language (though he knows enough to get by), he takes things without paying for them (though he offers), his presence leads to innocent deaths (though not by his hand) and he takes advantage of the town's young women (though, to be fair, that's their job). But the only time Americans are really spoken of in generalities is when a priest tells Jack that Americans are always trying to escape their history. Jack may be, although his deeper past is never brought up, but we do know one thing: he's definitely still dealing with his last trip to Sweden.

That's where the film starts, with Jack staying at a cabin on a frozen lake with a beautiful woman. While out for a walk, they find footprints, and before you know it, they're under sniper fire. Jack deals with the situation like a pro, but the damage is done, and he has to leave for Italy, where his handler will tell him what to do and where to go next. So, naturally, the handler sends him to a death trap -- a tiered mountain village so labyrinthine that you have to walk through tunnels and down alleys and past a dozen potential ambush points in order to get from your car to your apartment. It's like living in an Inception dream when the gravity's off, and no way to put a professional paranoiac's mind at ease. (Or maybe that's the point?) Despite this, Jack settles into somewhat of a boring existence: mornings exercising, afternoons pretending to be a photographer (like the film's director, Anton Corbijn), dinners with a chatty priest, and evenings at the local brothel with a gorgeous prostitute named Clara who should probably be living in a penthouse in Paris. He takes a job building a custom gun for a colleague, and you have to admire what the man can do in a small apartment with no heavy machinery.

The Swedes ultimately find him, leading to the only real action sequence in the movie, but it's too late; he's too settled in to pick up and go, and this thing with the prostitute may be love. But mostly, Jack seems to love the quiet and the scenery, and no wonder -- Corbijn brings the eye that made the beautiful music video for "Enjoy the Silence" to the mountainous terrain of Italy. Overhead shots of multi-colored roofs, wide shots of landscapes with one tiny car, empty stairwells and plazas with only Clooney in them -- even the place Jack goes to test his weapon is the most beautiful picnic spot on Earth, like the Garden of Eden, but with a naked Clara playing the part of Eve. Yes, Clara spends a good amount of time unclothed in the film, but it's Jack's body that tells the story; Clooney's most miniscule movements (an eye dart, an eyebrow twitch) speak volumes -- they have to, in order to get across the points that Corbijn doesn't feel the need to spell out for us, which is a lot of them. In the initial attack in Sweden, the fear and despair on Clooney's face explains why he ultimately decides he needs to get out of the life, and every time he gets into a situation where things could go wrong, you can see his brain moving at a mile a minute to try to figure out the angles. It's the opposite of American cool, just as this movie is the opposite of an American action film: no explosions, few shoot-outs, and everyone dies quietly.

Did you see The American? Tell us what you thought below, then see what would happen if Clooney ran an airline.

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