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American Tragedy

18 September 2010

The American, Anton Corbijn’s new film about an assassin-spy who hides out in Italy while he tries to finish his final job, has received very mixed reviews.  The slow pace and minimalist script has thrown a number of people expecting to see another George Clooney thriller.  Others, however, have recognized the fantastic cinematography and the impressive acting from a cast of relative unknowns.

What hasn’t been discussed as much is the classification of The American as a modern tragedy.  Jack (George Clooney) cannot escape his past; neither can he seize his future.  Attempts at honesty and romantic love are thwarted by his dark occupation.  Only in the last ten minutes of the movie – spoiler alert! – does he try to get to Clara to tell the truth about him, and reaches her only as he dies.  She has come out of her cocoon.  But he is a stillborn butterfly.

The movie can be understood as commentary about the traditional male, I think.  The opaque lives we live often never way to transparency.  A desire to love is always handcuffed by mistrust and self-defense.  Clooney’s wordless acting in that final stretch of road captures the tragic dynamic so well.  He will die before he has the chance to love and be loved.

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