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Sunday, July 21, 2013

'The American' - Going the Full Dante

I watched The American on DVD last night.  I liked it.


It’s a crisp iteration of a hackneyed story: the hit-man who wants to retire but they won’t let him.  Clooney is good in the film and that is no surprise.  The main character, Jack, is laconic and broody.  Clooney could  look great in this role if he were hung over and hadn’t read the script before filming started.

The movie’s outlook was fairly religious.  (This is not to be confused with ‘family friendly’; there’s too much nudity for that.)  A priest is an important supporting character – practically a one-man Greek chorus - and the setting is an ancient Italian village, complete with winding alleyways, tight stone stairwells, and religious processions.  The mood struck me as positively medieval.  And it works.  If we’re going to go full Dante, we may as well do it in a 14th Century Italian village.

Clooney’s character tells the priest “all men are sinners” and in many movies that would be the final word.  Here, the priest doesn’t back off.  He points out some sinning is worse than other sinning.  And Jack’s sinning is definitely of the “worse” sort.  He establishes his killer bona fides in the first scene of the movie.  And just in case we the audience try to misinterpret what we see, and try to withhold our judgment, the very next scene sets us straight about our man.   Jack runs to meet with Pavel, a grizzled, middle-aged assassination broker he does business with.  In the course of that conversation, Pavel is genuinely shocked at what Jack tells him.  When you can shock the grand-poobah of the contract-murder guild, you are one seriously wicked dude.  You also of course may be shocking the wrong guy.

By coincidence, in church this morning the sermon cited Isaiah 55:7:
Let the wicked forsake their ways
  and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
  and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
Maybe Father Benedetto had Isaiah in mind when he was talking to Jack.  Jack is a murderer, a liar, and who knows what else.  He has spent his life in business with murderers and liars and, while he obviously wants out, he doesn’t strike us as a chap likely (or even able) to forsake his ways and thoughts.  The audience wants to see if Jack can get away in one piece, but the overarching question – the question Father Benedetto is there to ask -  is whether Jack can repent and save his soul.  Guess which way the smart money bets?