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.


‘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.


  1. says

    I simply couldn’t depart your website prior to suggesting that I really enjoyed the usual information an individual provide in your visitors?

    Is going to be again incessantly in order to check up on new posts
    aaa recently

  2. says

    Everything posted made a lot of sense. However, consider this, suppose you
    were to create a awesome headline? I ain’t saying your content isn’t good.,
    however what if you added something that grabbed a person’s attention?
    I mean George Clooney’s ‘The American’ Is An Awful Film | Stop The Spirit Of
    Zossen is a little vanilla. You might glance at Yahoo’s front page
    and see how they create post headlines to grab viewers to click.
    You might try adding a video or a related picture or
    two to get readers interested about everything’ve
    written. Just my opinion, it could make your website a little bit
    more interesting.
    aaa recently

  3. says

    Superb blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost
    on everything. Would you recommend starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused ..
    Any tips? Cheers!
    aaa recently

    • says

      Thank you for the kind words. Many helped make this community what it is today.

      Re starting a new blog, there are a multitude of new platforms available in 2015 beyond the hoary WP, Live Journal and Blogger staples. Each of them have different strengths depending on your writing and presentation priorities.

      In no particular order, Medium, Tumblr and Svbtle (note ‘v’) come most readily to mind. An acquaintance from the BBC asked this question not long ago. Based on his work flow, recommended Tumblr for ease of writing, graphics and sharing. All worked well. NSA for what it’s worth also chose Tumblr to communicate in the immediate post-Snowden fallout. Medium continues to grow and grab mindshare away from Twitter. One of these or other new platforms might stand out as a good fit for your goals.

      On the question of writing tips, we could use some, too! Good luck.

  4. TSC says

    Someone else read your review, so I didn’t have to. I liked The American. Period. BTW, if you thought the movie was about firearms, join the NRA and jackoff with the weapon of your choice. Obviously, you missed the whole point of the movie. If it were realistic, it would have ended with Clooney and his lady friend dead in the snow. It was a freaking MOVIE!

  5. crimson30 says

    I can’t imagine how anyone with a modicum of firearms knowledge could enjoy this movie. It’s simply ridiculous.

  6. crimson says

    I can’t imagine how anyone with a fair amount of firearms knowledge could enjoy this movie. It’s laughable from the very start (first conversation with Vixen).

    Is it so hard to ask someone with half a clue to review the script?

  7. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Glad that you enjoyed the movie, Esther. Wes here did, too. In the end, that you found it meant something meaningful is all that matters. Hope that you get a chance to shake his hand.

  8. Esther says

    I loved this film, I enjoyed every seconds of it, nice camera movements, nice shots, great cuts, good sound and music. I’d like to shake Mr. Clooney’s hand:)
    Everybody writes it was an awful movie:( There must be something wrong with me than…:)

  9. Wes Montez says

    I hear what your saying, Doc.
    The short-barreled rifle idea was their novel way to establish some street cred for Clooney as he really “don’t have none” otherwise. I don’t have a problem with the way Clooney handled the character, but understand how you could feel he just wasn’t the right guy for the part. But what actor is? Its always going to be a little less than 100% authentic for the true aficionado. Spec ops people, as rule, think counter-intuitively. Targets and threats not so much.

    I did have a problem with Clooney using the pocket pea shooter. The PPK might have been cool for the girl but spec ops guys usually carry the biggest heat they can conceal, preferable something in the order of magnitude of a .45. One shot stops are the objective and hitting a threat with 4 or 5 .380’s or even 9mm’s just ain’t going to do it. Too much James bond there and not enough reality.

    In regard to the sound suppressor, I bought into it not because it would be the first choice but because it was a standard solution to a specific problem. Getting too clever with this kind of thing can only get one in trouble. A sound suppressor, which should be half the length of the barrel, actually increases accuracy by stabilizing said barrel, and reducing barrel jump and flash. So in that way it made some sense. What didn’t make sense was using non-subsonic ammo for such purposes. Using subsonic ammo reduces the velocity and energy transfer of the projectile such that in this case one would need some fragmenting or explosive bullet to get the job done. I guess that’s where the mercury tips came in. Just another ballistic detail to consider.

    Personally, I still think the movie worked from a stylistic and metaphorical standpoint. Hemingway and G. Greene are too favorite authors of mine who could write from experience and present this sort of thing from an authentic point of view in the minimalist manner. Your observation which noted Clooney’s character sitting with his back to the cafe’s windows represented to me that characters longing for death, a passive suicidal tendency based on the dead end in which he saw himself. It could not be explained otherwise. See Hems Clean, Well-Lighted Room story. Not until he meets and courts his Italian primadonna does he regain his purpose and lust for life, slowly regaining also his will to live. Of course, the tragedy is that this relationship was always and will always be impossible. For me, that seemed to be the main point of the movie. Trite and shallow as that may seem to some, I can understand this existential point of view.

  10. DrLeoStrauss says

    @Wes Montez

    Recall never said a Mini-14 wouldn’t work. Just that it was an absurd first choice MacGuffin for this movie to prove Clooney’s street cred. On that we’ll disagree. Everything else is really just an aside.

    As for Mini-14s limitations, the take here is based both on personal experience with the rifle (along with other, much better ones) and opinions of others more qualified. Your mileage may vary.

    Familiar with .223 Remington/ 5.56 mm but does handloading offer any compelling compensating delta in this instance, especially with it already short barreled and having used auto parts slapped on. My sense is at this point one buys into the movie premise or not.

    We disagree on the 5.56 but we do agree that bigger and slower/7.62 (or heavier) is the superior choice.

    Can a Mini-14 be used as a sniper rifle? Sure. Is it light? Yeah. Would it be a professional’s first choice? Wouldn’t we both agree that’s a “No”? Why not just use an M-4 (6lbs)?

    If weight was that critical, if Edward can balance Alfa Romeo parts on a Mini-14, couldn’t he also concoct Vixen a 7.62 on a diet?

    Agree with you that anyone unfamiliar with handling a rifle will find a recoil novel. Women trained well adapt and handle recoil. Your point is a good one.

    Although if Vixen can’t deal with something heavier than a Mini-14 perhaps she’s better off using the plethora of other guns that she and everyone else seem to have all over the movie, some with silencers as well. And re-plan her hit accordingly.

  11. Wes Montez says

    Hi Doc,
    With all due respect, your knowledge and understanding of tactical weapons is pretty good for a Wiki reader. Marine snipers and Army designated marksmen are well aware of the limitations of the 5.56 round. Clearly, the 7.62 round is superior for consistent hits at distances exceeding 300m and is the standard all around caliber of choice. But as I remember, Clooney’s character was handloading .223 rounds which is a very different animal altogether from the .556. The .223 well loaded has the potential for extreme accuracy at distances well within the parameters outline in the movie. But as every shooter knows, you don’t really need all that much accuracy to hit your target at these shorter distances. A 1.5 to 2″ spread at 100 yards is very adequate for the purposes outlined. In fact, I believe those were the female shooter’s exact specifications. These specifications are suitable for female shooters as females tend to prefer less recoil. The recoil of the 7.62 round is substantial and requires a heaver rifle in order shoot accurately, which gets us back to the Mini-14. This rifle, which looks more like a government model or AC-556 using the round specified is more than suitable for the purposes of the female assassin especially with its ready made folding stock and short barrel. Its weight of 6.5 pounds is also more suitable for female shooters. This as opposed to the standard 10-14 pounds for a proper 7.62 caliber sniper rifle. The Mini-14 is also a model of rifle that has a long history in law enforcement and the main characters would be well aware of it. Believe me when I tell you that you don’t really want to be shooting a rifle that you are unfamiliar with in a high stakes situation.

  12. DrLeoStrauss says

    @Wes Montez Wes, glad you and your wife enjoyed the movie. No axe to grind with Clooney per se from any ideological point of view.

    The movie was fatally flawed because it lacked real character development, merely hinting at it. The movie thus stood or fell on the soft porn focus on Edward’s alleged ‘mad skillz’.

    As noted in the post, been years since we’ve used weapons with the 5.56 mm family. At one time we were fairly comfortable with them. US domestic and foreign. Not currently trained or a gun aficionado as mentioned. Let’s underscore that.

    Regret can’t accede to your assertion that the Mini-14 is the most reliable (accurate) or desirable choice for a sniper; not sure abundance of spare parts a factor here for Vixen.

    Mini-14s do have legions of fans on who do claim it’s accurate. Even most fans admit accuracy can be greatly improved with the considerable smithing (yet even then with no consistency).

    We agree, right, a professional sniper’s first choice would not be to use 5.56mm in the first place?

    Second, we also agree with you that ordinarily Edward the professional assassin hiding in Northern Italy is unlikely to create pen pals in duplicate with the BATF (not FBI). In this movie, who knows?

    “Class 3 licenses” are in many ways a misnomer. It’s really all about taxes (BATF is in Treasury, after all) in the National Firearms Act of ’34. There are two taxes involved, a special occupations tax (SOT) and the NFA tax. What people call Class 3 licensed dealers are really SOT approved with a federal firearms license. In practice this means they can sometimes overcharge (some quite a bit) because of the perceived complicated processes.

    Assuming Edward doesn’t use non-U.S. suppliers for his Northern Italian mail project or have a U.S. contact (he after all got a short barrel in the mail IIRC correctly, also covered under NFA), we noted the readily available works describing in detail how to build a basic Mini-14 suppressor. They generally focus on light PVC plastics or equivalent and other items readily available in a Home Depot as noted.

    None, to our knowledge, advise putting heavy metal from an Alfa Romeo on the barrel of said notoriously inaccurate rifle (and somehow machining/threading it).

    All of which is to say we agree on some points and disagree on others. Glad you enjoyed the movie. It wasn’t to our taste or others in our audience that screening.

  13. Wes Montez says

    Misinformed Critic:
    If you really knew anything about weapons, you’d know the mini-14 is in fact a pretty fair choice for an assassins rifle. Firstly, its a Garand type semi-auto, one of the most reliable and customizable in the business, the spare parts for which are plenty. Secondly, one cannot simply mail order a sound suppressor. One must have Federal government approval for ordering and possession of such Class 3 weapons. This requires that the applicant is fingerprinted and checked out by the FBI, not necessarily a good thing for the characters in this “movie”. If you’ve got a problem with Clooney, as many have, just say so. Personally, I enjoyed the cinematography and, as a male, the quality of the women portrayed. My wife enjoyed the latter less so. It is admirable too that in this day and age where the Bournes of the world rule the cinema, and the action pic has taken center stage, a movie comes along that is patient and contemplative about telling its story, and does it in a minimalist style.

  14. cb says

    “Violante Placido plays Clara wonderfully. Of course, she’s required to spend 35-40% of her screen time topless.”

    Burying the lede — when’s the next showing?

  15. Pugsley says

    I’m missing something here. Why and how could a Clooney movie be worth 1. Notice 2. Attention 3. Review? Sheesh.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


CommentLuv badge