Friday, September 3, 2010

George The Big Swedish Meatball

From the first moments of the hollow-hearted thriller "The American," the Swedes are out to get George Clooney, and Ingmar Bergman is at the head of the posse. The movie has gorgeous scenery and minimal dialogue and music and reeks of existential angst. Most Bergmanesque of all is a scene where Clooney, playing a weary assassin named Jack, has a conversation with an inquisitive priest, Fr. Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) during which his face is in focus while staring at Benedetto's, which is perpendicular to his and slightly out of focus. You've seen the same move in Bergman movies, Woody Allen movies making fun of Bergman movies, and the SNL Compulsion ad starring Jan Hooks and Phil Hartman.

Jack and Father bond over brandy and beef stew and soon recognize each other as sinners with dark secrets, though Jack's are a lot darker and more recent. We never learn why Swedish assassins want to kill him, but when they track him to his snowbound love nest at the beginning of the story, he murders his innocent girlfriend to make sure he gets away clean.

This completely unjustifiable act makes him the most unsympathetic well-trained killing machine I've ever seen on film, which is ironic, since the whole idea is that in middle age Jack's becoming a big Swedish meatball. "Don't make any friends," his ridiculously sinister handler, Pavel (Johan Leysen), says scoldingly after bringing him in from the cold. "You used to understand that." Pavel sends Jack to a remote Italian village to await instructions and not make friends, whereupon he promptly sidles up to Benedetto and falls in love with a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido).

Wandering through the village's dark, empty, maze-like streets trying to evade Swedes, Jack is your basic Sergio Leone antihero trapped by his destiny. Later, he's MacGyver, out to fulfill his last assignment by building a rifle for a mysterious Belgian assassin (Thekla Reuten) out of auto parts. You never know whom he, she, and Pavel are working for. You may care, but I didn't.

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