The American (2010 film)

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The American
The American 2010 poster.png
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnton Corbijn
Screenplay byRowan Joffé
Based onA Very Private Gentleman
by Martin Booth
Produced by
CinematographyMartin Ruhe
Edited byAndrew Hulme
Music byHerbert Grönemeyer
Distributed byFocus Features
Release date
  • September 1, 2010 (2010-09-01)
Running time
105 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$20 million[2]
Box office$67.9 million[3]

The American is a 2010 American action thriller film directed by Anton Corbijn and starring George Clooney, Thekla Reuten, Violante Placido, Irina Björklund, and Paolo Bonacelli.[4] Based on the 1990 novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, it was loosely adapted to screenplay by Rowan Joffé. The film was released on September 1, 2010. It received generally positive reviews from critics and grossed $67 million worldwide.


Jack, a gunsmith and contract killer, and his lover, Ingrid, are relaxing in Sweden. As they walk in the wilderness outside their cabin, Jack becomes alarmed by a trail of footprints in the snow and pulls Ingrid towards shelter. Sniper gunshots ring out. Ingrid sees Jack pull a gun from his pocket and shoot the sniper. Knowing his identity is in jeopardy, and with little hesitation, Jack kills Ingrid before locating and killing another armed man. He flees to Rome and contacts his handler, Pavel, who insists that Jack cannot stay in Rome. Pavel sends him to Castelvecchio, a small town in the mountains of Abruzzo. Jack becomes nervous, and disposing of the cell phone Pavel gave him, goes to nearby Castel del Monte instead—where he uses the name Edward.

While in Abruzzo, Jack contacts Pavel, who sets him up with another job. He meets Mathilde, an assassin who wants him to build her a custom sniper rifle. He also begins patronizing a prostitute, Clara, and they begin a relationship. Jack borrows tools from the priest's friend and builds a suppressor. Jack continues to notice he's being followed by a man. He meets with Mathilde to test the weapon. She is impressed by the craftsmanship but asks him to make a few more adjustments. Later, Jack kills the man following him; an assassin from Sweden.

Jack is tormented by dreams of the events in Sweden and regrets killing Ingrid. His friendship and conversations with a local priest, Father Benedetto, encourage him to question his life choices. Both Mathilde and Clara notice Jack's association with butterflies, Mathilde by his expertise in 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 starts to let himself feel love for Clara and envisions a life with her.

Jack talks to Pavel, asking how the Swedes have found him. In his growing fear, he even suspects Clara when he discovers a small pistol in her purse. He questions Clara about the gun and is satisfied with her explanation (to defend herself, since newspapers have reported murdered prostitutes).

Jack agrees to deliver the weapon to Mathilde as his last job, but at the last moment, he re-opens the briefcase holding it. At the drop-off, Jack becomes suspicious that Mathilde plans to kill him. Before anything can happen, a bus load of school children arrives. Mathilde gives Jack his payment—a thick envelope full of cash—and the two separate. As Mathilde drives away, Pavel contacts her and asks if she has killed Jack. She tells him she has not, but says she is following him 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 tries to shoot Jack from a nearby rooftop but the rifle backfires in her face, confirming Jack's suspicion and his last-minute decision to sabotage the rifle. Seeing Mathilde fall from the roof, Jack gives Clara the envelope full of cash and tells her to go to a river where they had picnicked before 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 hears Pavel behind him. They exchange gunfire and Pavel drops dead. 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 butterfly flits skyward from Jack's car.



View of Sulmona in Abruzzo, 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 film's "most romantic moment", according to director Anton Corbijn—when Jack takes Clara to a restaurant of her choice, their "actual date"—was filmed at a restaurant in Pacentro, near Sulmona. 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 all of the lovers of Gabriele D'Annunzio. 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.[5]

The film score was written and composed by German singer-songwriter (and longtime friend of Corbijn) Herbert Grönemeyer. A 1967 song called "Window of My Eyes" by the Dutch blues band Cuby + Blizzards is played over the ending credits. The aria "Un bel dì, vedremo" ("One fine day we'll see") 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 (1968), with Henry Fonda facing off as a villain in a gunfight, is playing on television on the back wall of a modest restaurant where Jack has been eating. In the DVD commentary, Corbijn notes this homage and says the American Western—and more specifically the Italian-American Spaghetti Westerns by Leone and others—were explicit models for The American. Corbijn also notes the Ennio Morricone scores made famous in Once Upon a Time in the West, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), and other films.[5] Speaking of the narrow, labyrinthine streets of the Italian hill towns where much of the action of The American occurs, Corbijn says he was thinking, in filming, of the streets of Venice and the way they appeared in Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now (1973).[5]

Large segments of the dialogue between Jack and Clara are taken verbatim from Graham Greene's novel The Honorary Consul (1973).[6]



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.[7][8]

Box office[edit]

The American grossed $35.6 million in the United States and Canada, and $32.3 million in other territories, for a worldwide total $67.9 million, against a production budget of $20 million.[3]

The film debuted to $13.2 million, including a total of $16.7 million over the four-day Labor Day weekend, topping the box office. It fell 57% to $5.7 million in its second weekend, finishing third, and another 53% to $2.7 million in its third weekend.[3]

Critical response[edit]

On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating 66% based on 224 reviews, with an average rating of 6.5/10. The website's critical 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."[9] On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 61 out of 100, based on 36 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[10] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "D−" on an A+ to F scale. The score was attributed to disappointment after the film was marketed as being action-packed instead of focusing on suspense and drama.[11]

Rolling Stone's Peter Travers gave the film two-and-a-half stars, writing that director Anton Corbijn "holds his film to a steady, often glacial pace", and that the result is of "startling austerity".[12] 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."[13] Leonard Maltin called it a "slowly paced, European-style mood piece, short on dialogue and action and long on atmosphere".[14]

Home media[edit]

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


  1. ^ "The American (2010)". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c "The American (2010)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved December 13, 2010.
  4. ^ Kaufman, Amy (May 5, 2010). "Preview review: Clooney goes dark in The American". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c Director commentary on DVD. Retrieved July 22, 2011.
  6. ^ Stetson, Nancy (June 30, 2016). "America: Land of the free, home of the brave, the movie, the book, the superhero, the beer and a whole lot more". Florida Weekly. Bonita Springs, FL.
  7. ^ "The American Official Poster". The Film Stage. June 17, 2010. Archived from the original on March 24, 2012. Retrieved June 17, 2010.
  8. ^ "The American Official Trailer No. 2". The Film Stage. June 19, 2010. Archived from the original on March 24, 2012. Retrieved June 19, 2010.
  9. ^ "The American (2010)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved March 13, 2018.
  10. ^ "The American Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved September 5, 2010.
  11. ^ Ryan, Mike (June 10, 2013). "'The Purge' box office". Huffington Post.
  12. ^ Travers, Peter. "The American". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on September 4, 2010. Retrieved September 6, 2010.
  13. ^ Ebert, Roger (August 31, 2010). "The American". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved September 4, 2010.
  14. ^ Maltin, Leonard (September 1, 2010). "film review: The American". Archived from the original on September 4, 2010. Retrieved September 7, 2010.

External links[edit]