The American (2010 film)

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The American
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Anton Corbijn
Produced by
Screenplay by Rowan Joffé
Based on A Very Private Gentleman 
by Martin Booth
Music by Herbert Grönemeyer
Cinematography Martin Ruhe
Edited by Andrew Hulme
Distributed by Focus Features
Release dates
  • September 1, 2010 (2010-09-01)
Running time
105 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $20 million[1]
Box office $67.9 million[2]

The American is a 2010 American thriller film directed by Anton Corbijn and starring George Clooney, Thekla Reuten, Violante Placido, Irina Björklund, and Paolo Bonacelli.[3] It is an adaptation of the 1990 novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. The film opened on September 1, 2010.


Jack (George Clooney), a gunsmith and contract killer, and his lover Ingrid (Irina Björklund) are relaxing in Sweden. Jack becomes alarmed by a single pair of footprints in the snow. Sniper gunshots soon ring out. Ingrid watches Jack pull a gun from his pocket and shoot the approaching sniper. Knowing his identity is in jeopardy and with little hesitation, Jack shoots and kills Ingrid. He flees to Rome and contacts his handler Pavel (Johan Leysen), who insists that Jack cannot stay in Rome. Pavel gives him the keys for a Fiat Tempra and sends him to Castelvecchio (a small town in the mountains of Abruzzo). Jack becomes nervous, and, disposing of the cell phone which Pavel had given him, goes to nearby Castel del Monte, Abruzzo, instead.

While in Abruzzo, Jack contacts Pavel, who sets him up with another job. He meets Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), who wants him to build a custom-designed sniper rifle for an assassination. He also begins patronizing a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido), and they begin a relationship separate from her business duties. The film lingers occasionally on Jack's meticulous mechanical abilities, in particular, his creation of a custom silencer for Mathilde's weapon crafted out of junk machine parts and bearings salvaged from an auto mechanic shop. Jack meets with Mathilde to test the weapon, and she is impressed by the craftsmanship, but asks that Jack make a few more adjustments. Later, Jack realizes that he is being followed by an assassin from Sweden, whom he kills.

Jack is tormented by dreams of the events in Sweden and regrets killing Ingrid. His friendship and conversations with a local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), cause him to question his life choices. Both Mathilde and Clara notice Jack's association with butterflies, Mathilde by his expertise on endangered butterflies and Clara by his prominent tattoo. When Father Benedetto tells Jack he senses he lives in a special kind of hell, "a place without love", Jack begins to allow himself to feel love for Clara and envisions a life with her.

Jack talks to Pavel one last time, asking how the Swedes have possibly found him. His paranoia grows to the point that even Clara comes under suspicion when Jack discovers a small pistol in her purse. While on a picnic, he sees Clara reach into her bag and he retrieves a gun from inside the picnic basket; ultimately, she takes a tube of sunscreen from her bag and asks a greatly relieved "Edward" to put some on her back. In the car, Jack questions Clara about the gun and is satisfied with her explanation (to defend herself, since there have been newspaper reports of murdered prostitutes). She asks him to take her home with him, but Jack refuses.

Jack agrees to deliver the weapon to Mathilde as his last job, but at the last moment he reopens the briefcase and deliberately sabotages the rifle. At the drop-off, Jack becomes suspicious that Mathilde plans to kill him. Before anything can happen, a busload of school children arrives, and the two separate. While driving away, Mathilde is contacted by Pavel, who asks if she has killed Jack. She tells him she has not, but insists that she is following Jack and will kill him.

Clara meets Jack at a religious procession in town. Jack asks her to go away with him and she agrees. Mathilde attempts to assassinate Jack from a nearby rooftop, but the rifle backfires and explodes in her face. Seeing Mathilde fall from the roof, Jack gives Clara an envelope full of cash and tells her to go to a river where they had picnicked and wait for him. He runs to Mathilde, who is dying on the pavement, and discovers that she also works for Pavel.

As Jack goes to meet Clara, he notices that Pavel is following him. They exchange gunfire, and Pavel is killed. As Jack drives to meet Clara at the river, he feels his abdomen and realizes he has been shot. Jack arrives at the picnic spot and as he sees Clara, he collapses. Clara screams and runs to the car. A white, endangered butterfly flits skyward from Jack's car as his fate is left ambiguous.



View of Sulmona in Abruzzi, Italian set of the film
View of the village of Castel del Monte (Abruzzo)

Filming began in September 2009 and took place in Castel del Monte, Sulmona, Castelvecchio Calvisio, Calascio and Campo Imperatore in the Province of L'Aquila (Abruzzo); in Rome, and in Östersund, Jämtland and other locations. As the Clooney character drives from Rome to Castel del Monte, there is an impressively long drive through the 4600 meter long San Domenico Tunnel (Galleria San Domenico) that is between the exits of Pescina and Cocullo on the A25 highway that connects Rome to Torano and Pescara. The car driven by Jack in the movie is a Fiat Tempra with Pescara licence plates.

The "most romantic moment", per Corbijn, of the film – when Jack takes Clara to a restaurant of her choice, their "actual date" above – was filmed at a restaurant in Pacentro, Italy, near Sulmona. Pacentro is known for among other things being the town from which entertainer Madonna's father hailed. The comic-acting waiter in this restaurant scene was directed to stand in front of a two-bulb lamp fixture so that he appeared to have "devil's horns." Photographs on the restaurant's walls are reportedly of all the lovers of an early-20th-century poet from the town. Clara orders Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wine for the dinner, and Corbijn said the film's company enjoyed many of the fine wines of the region during the months of production there.[4]

The film score was written and composed by German singer-songwriter (and longtime friend of Anton Corbijn) Herbert Grönemeyer. A 1967 song called "Window of My Eyes" by the Dutch blues band Cuby & the Blizzards is played over the ending credits. The aria "Un bel dì vedremo" ("One fine day we'll see"[5]) from Puccini's opera Madama Butterfly can be heard in the background of one scene and "Tu vuò fà l'americano" in another. In another scene the Italian song "La Bambola" by Patty Pravo plays.

"Western" films and other influences[edit]

Once Upon a Time in the West, with Henry Fonda facing off as villain in a gunfight, is playing on a television on the back wall of a modest restaurant where Jack has been eating. Director Corbijn in the DVD commentary noted this homage and said the American Western, and more specifically the Italian-American so-called spaghetti westerns produced by Leone and others, were explicit models for The American. Corbijn also noted the Ennio Morricone scores which became famous for Once Upon a Time in the West and other Leone titles like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.[4] Speaking of the narrow, labyrinthine streets of the Italian hill towns where much of the action of The American occurs, Corbijn said he was thinking, in filming, of the streets of Venice and the way they appeared in Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973).[4]

Large segments of the dialogue between Jack and Clara are taken verbatim from Graham Greene's novel "The Honorary Consul".



The first official poster was released on June 17, 2010. The first trailer was attached to Robin Hood and the second official trailer on June 19, 2010, and was attached to Jonah Hex, Grown Ups, Inception and The Other Guys.[6][7]

Box office[edit]

The film grossed US$13.1 million, opening at No. 1, ahead of Machete which grossed US$11.4 million on the Labor Day weekend. The American grossed a total of US$67,876,281 worldwide – US$35,606,376 in North America and US$32,269,905 in other territories.[2]

Critical response[edit]

The American received a mixed response from critics, garnering a 66% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 211 reviews with an average score of 6.5/10.[8] Its consensus states "As beautifully shot as it is emotionally restrained, The American is an unusually divisive spy thriller — and one that rests on an unusually subdued performance from George Clooney."[8] Similarly, another review aggregator, Metacritic calculated an average score of 61 based on 36 reviews.[9]

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers gave the film two and a half stars, writing director Anton Corbijn "holds his film to a steady, often glacial pace", and is of "startling austerity."[10]

Roger Ebert gave the film four stars, writing, "Here is a gripping film with the focus of a Japanese drama, an impenetrable character to equal Alain Delon's in Le Samouraï, by Jean-Pierre Melville."[11] Leonard Maltin called it a "slowly paced, European-style mood piece, short on dialogue and action and long on atmosphere."[12]

Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an unusual D- rating. This was attributed to audience disappointment after the film was marketed as being more action-oriented.[13]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on December 28, 2010.


  1. ^ Fritz, Ben (September 2, 2010). "Movie projector: Machete, Going the Distance and The American go head-to-head-to-head". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 2, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "The American (2010)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  3. ^ Kaufman, Amy (May 5, 2010). "Preview review: Clooney goes dark in The American". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c Director commentary on DVD. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  5. ^ Google translate
  6. ^ "The American Official Poster". The Film Stage. June 17, 2010. Retrieved June 17, 2010. 
  7. ^ "The American Official Trailer No. 2". The Film Stage. June 19, 2010. Retrieved June 19, 2010. 
  8. ^ a b "The American (2010)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 5, 2010. 
  9. ^ "The American". Metacritic. Retrieved September 5, 2010. 
  10. ^ "The American". Rolling Stone. Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  11. ^ "The American (R)". Retrieved September 4, 2010. 
  12. ^ "film review: The American". Retrieved September 6, 2010. 
  13. ^ Ryan, Mike. "'The Purge' box office". Huffington Post. 

External links[edit]