Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Video review: "The American"

"The American" falls uneasily into the thriller category, but its real thrills happen in between the gunfire.

George Clooney plays Jack -- that's his name, at least some of the time -- a veteran assassin for hire. His last job went bad, some unknown forces are after him, and he's hiding out in a remote Italian village while he waits for more work.

Jack is exacting, meticulous and careful. He does not relish his work but takes pride in doing it well. He has learned through harsh lessons that personal connections are not worth the risk.

But he's getting older, his handler needles him that he's lost his edge, and two denizens of the village end up holding a strong pull for him: The friendship of a kindly priest, and the affections of the local prostitute.

Clooney gives one of his best performances, but it's a severely understated one that shows up mostly in his eyes and a tightening of his jaw. Audiences who have reliably turned out to see the actor in most everything he does largely stayed away this time.

It's their loss: "The American" is a spare, tightly-wound film whose attributes are not immediately obvious. This is less the story of a man who kills for a living, than what that life has extracted from his soul.

Video features are modest in scope, but what there is, is decent.

There are several deleted scenes totaling five minutes. They mostly serve to ratchet up Jack's paranoia.

An 11-minute making-of documentary is fairly standard stuff, though the part about shooting in Italy is enlightening. Everything is much more "informal," one producer says -- which apparently is code for long coffee breaks.

A feature-length commentary track by director Anton Corbijn, a veteran photographer who turned to film late in life, is a bit on the dry side. Could've been much more interesting if they had paired Clooney with him.

Extras are the same for Blu-ray and DVD editions.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 2.5 stars

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