Clooney’s ‘The American’: We Saw It So You Don’t Have To (Slightly Revised)

WHAT: Focus Film’s Clooney vehicle based on Brit Martin Booth’s 1990 novel ‘The American’.

WHERE: A state-of-the-art multiplex theater nested in the heart of an Imperial City suburban enclave teaming with massive defense contracting presences and nearby government installations.

THE AUDIENCE: Theater 45% filled, average age probably mid 50s, three or so younger couples in 20s to early 30s.

THE REACTION: A few sniggers and guffaws erupted during the movie (more on that below) followed by sustained booing. Yes, sustained booing from a 50-60 year old demo in mannered D.C. One woman in her later 50s yelled out ‘I want my money back !!’ She got energetic applause and more laughs. People jeered the credits, muttered to themselves, and left mocking it all.

We doubled back to the theater for other reasons and caught the last 5 minutes of a late showing. This younger crowd, mostly couples in their 20s, didn’t boo. But they did laugh at and during the ending. Departing they cheerfully chatted ‘wow that was really bad’ and so on. Perhaps it’s true, the young can shake off unpleasantness more easily.

ALL OF THEM TOOK THE HIT FOR YOU, DEAR READER. It’s really awful. And no, MSNBC, Clooney is not the American James Bond.

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‘The American’ fails on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. It’s really three movies: (i) about Clooney (“Edward”), a vague assassin without institutional or professional context; (ii) a bizarrely reverential tribute to a dull blue Fiat auto; and (iii) a sketchy romance between Edward and the winning Violante Placido.


Movie One: Edward And The Mail Order Stock Rifle From Walmart

Edward’s an aging hit man. He’s hip though; he often changes designer sunglasses. Running from a botched hit, he hides fearfully in a remote Italian town (pop. maybe 900). His possessions are some dufflebags and an old Fiat.

The flick’s MacGuffin? Edward takes an assignment from hiding to build a sniper rifle for a young female professional assassin (we’ll call her “Vixen”). She’s from The Big City. Her designer clothes and sports car say she’s hip, too.

Clooney meets Vixen who declares tersely she needs a sniper rifle firing a 5.56mm round at medium engagement ranges with a ‘silencer’. And smallish, like in a purse, please. That’s it. The entire movie stands or falls on it’s purported realism demonstrated through detail. Where to begin?

First, both of them fail at the outset. A 5.56 mm round wouldn’t be a professional sniper’s first choice. A well trained shooter can be effective at Vixen’s chosen distance. (It’s been years since we’ve used it on a range and we don’t purport to be a gun aficionado by any means).

Military or domestic SWAT snipers would insist on a heavier caliber routinely. A 5.56 mm round famously lacks penetration and lethal stopping power. In non-close quarters combat the maxim remains ‘slow, heavy bullets are better than fast, lightweight bullets’.

A so-called ‘lights out’ takedown with 5.56mm round almost always requires a head shot PLUS taking out the brain stem. A tricky two-fer. It’s not enough to hit your target. The two-fer is needed for a guaranteed kill. The survivors of 5.56mm head shots are many. Our two ‘professionals’ don’t even discuss the matter.

The first few laughs in the back began here. It’s a serious issue. The U.S. Army in the summer of 2010 just issued a new ‘green tip’ 5.56 mm standard round for troops in Afghanistan, the M855A1. For the above reasons – and that’s combat problems, not sniping. The A1 replaces the 20 year old M855 ammunition from the 1980s. (The bureaucratic reasons for the Army’s delay and experiments with an interim, heavier 6.8 mm round are an aside).

OK, forget the ammo specs. Edward does what any professional assassin would do hiding for his life in remote Italy. He orders rifle components via mail — from somewhere. His professional choice? A Ruger Mini-14 rifle. It uses the same 5.56/223 ammo as the M-16/M-4 assault rifle or the civilian counterpart, the commercially available and superior AR-15. But he chooses a Ruger. Why?

Yup, the same Ruger Mini-14 rifle on sale at many Walmarts and commercial outlets. Brand new? High end is around $700. Used maybe 50-60% less.

Edward can choose from a variety of still sub-optimal 5.56 weapons. The Ruger Mini-14 is notoriously inaccurate. It’s legendary for trouble holding groupings together at 100 yards, let alone Vixen’s requirements. Even with a guns smith’s re-bedding the action and re-doing the trigger it’s unreliable. A Mini-14 also has fairly loud ‘action’. Wouldn’t an assassin care? Edward short barrels it, adding further potential accuracy concerns. Does he select it because it’s all he has in his dufflebags? All he can get by the post office?

Several people behind us began to laugh sporadically by now. Surprising. Decorum in an adult Imperial City movie theater is pretty de rigueur. This audience really does shut off cell phones when told to do so before movie start.

Edward’s not totally passive. He puffs cred admonishing Vixen the rifle would fit a briefcase, not her purse. Bam! Step back. Edward then builds Vixen a wooden folding stock. But why didn’t he just mail his supplier for a Mini-14 with an over-the-counter modified grip and folding stock to start? Or if he wanted something custom, order an aftermarket commercial kit for $60.00-$100.00?

Why make this movie?

Second, Vixen’s suppressor. Don’t ask why didn’t Edward mail order it, too. Edward somehow produces a honkingly huge, beautiful scope. Either his dufflebags are magically endless or it was UPS time again.

So we suffer for art and witness Edward establish more street cred. He grabs kludgy used auto parts to make his own suppressor. Pretty basic stuff. The Interwebs are chock-a-block with guides. Amazon has a book specifically on building silencers/suppressors for the Mini-14. Household PVC pipes and ordinary washers, etc. are naturally vastly more effective than going Italian heavy metal automotive. Apparently, Italian mail can’t deliver generic plastic plumbing and washers from Home Depot or even Rome.

Per MoDo, Clooney retreats to his ‘Man Cave’ to build it. Edward pulls a Vulcan, timing metal bashing to local church bells. Because that’s what pros do. Edward instantly has a suppressor smooth as an iPad and it threads on like butter. He also intuitively knows glomming used Italian car parts on a Mini-14 will add completely absurd weight distrtubtions. No matter. A few tweaks and it’s right as rain.

Third, now Vixen adds to the stupid. More? You betcha.

She inspects her fully kitted out Mini-14 with gorgeous scope (nothing says professional assassin like a big, beautiful scope). Vixen then channels Forsythe’s ‘Day of the Jackal’. She demands Edward hollow out 5.56 rounds with mercury. Mercury bullets were going to explode in DeGaulle’s head, remember? Absurd then and still is.

Mercury is liquid at room temperature. Edward drills out tips and adds a dollop. (Yes, he now powers up a drill in his low profile pad). Where does he get mercury? Who knows? He’s in a nosy town of 900 some odd provincial Eyetalians suspicious of the sole American. He’s still BFF with the post office. Or maybe it’s his magic duffle bags again.

If Vixen is lucky and: (a) hits her target; and (b) the target *lives*; and (c) somehow the target is left unattended, bleeding for even days, then maybe the target *might* get mercury poisoning. Getting shot would be the target’s first and main concern. A hospital that staunches a wound easily deals with minimal mercury.

Finally, Edward delivers both Ruger and ammo. We’re lurching towards movie, er climax. As a pro, naturally Edward’s worried about a set up. He still flashes for both audience and Vixen that he’s too legit to quit. He displays the assorted rounds like candy: (i) green tip (NATO M855 for light armor/personnel); (ii) plain; and (iii) others, possibly some orange tips in there (tracer), etc. After all, what professional assassin wouldn’t want or need them?

Total cost, retail — probably less than $2,500 including S&H. Give or take. Oh, and the Samsonite ™ briefcase. Why does Vixen require an international assassin hiding in provincial Italy to assemble a commercial grade, inaccurate rifle? When she and everyone in the movie already have boatloads of guns they wave around with silencers? A MacGuffin, we know. You can see the plot ahead a mile away without Vixen’s honking big sight.

Churlish? In such a movie without any relationship contexts, detail is all that establishes character. Once the detail falls apart there’s literally nothing. The LA Times asks futilely ‘Why Do So Many George Clooney Fans Love Him But Hate His Movies?’ We’re not a hater. It just blows.

Unconvinced? This pro does push ups to stay ‘tough’. He suffers cliche nightmares/reach for the bedside gun. He takes off shoes to avoid cobblestone clatter. So naturally he goes to small bars and sits with his back to huge street windows. When he’s pretty sure he’s being followed. He takes a meeting in a restaurant afraid he might get set up again with his back to windows. He dines facing away from doors. But around a hooker on a picnic? He’s totally all over it, constantly handling his er, gun. Remember Kennedy’s disappointed reaction after Helms finally complies with a presidential request to meet the ‘American James Bond’ heading up Mongoose, Bill Harvey? Maybe the flick and MSNBC are the real truth tellers.

Movie Number Two: Bizarre Tribute To A Dull Blue Fiat

If the Bond movies (the good ones, before Ford) feature exotic cars like porn, ‘The American’ is fixated on a dull blue boxy Fiat. Shot after shot, the car itself is the focal point. Edward may make a public phone call but the Fiat lurks in center screen presence. Maybe there’s intent? Are the car’s dullness and typical Fiat build quality silent anti-Bondian commentary? Perhaps the car signifies both beginning and closure?

Alas, no. One soon realizes the shots are simply badly framed. The Fiat hogs screen time for no purpose. It’s the anti-Michael Bay school of cinematography for all the wrong reasons. At least no production crew are caught inadvertently in non-existent reflections.

And The Winner Is — Movie Three: Edward And The Captivating Violante Placido

Just this would’ve been a much better movie. Cut the assassin stuff. Skip optioning the book.

Put Edward/Clooney on an Italian vacation. Keep the parts where he meets the proverbial golden-hearted hooker (“Clara”). He’s Americano. She’s Italian. Comedic gold, no? Add a dog named Marley-gico. Imagine meeting the parents!

Focus Films is marketing ‘The American’ as a ‘European’ art house movie. Violante Placido plays Clara wonderfully. Of course, she’s required to spend 35-40% of her screen time topless. It’s European! That’s sophistication. Didn’t you know? (Clooney by contrast must’ve had a no sex scene clause in his contract. He’s variously under sheets, in trousers or pulling them up but otherwise safe from flagrante delicto (mercifully)). When Placido’s allowed to act and remain clothed, she rescues the screen from Clooney’s stolid non-acting. She deserves better. But then so do we.

If you must spoil the show, the name Clara has Latin origins from 13th century saints. There. That’s the real movie. Makes sense now, right? It’s *art*, after all.