The American hits region free US Blu-ray with a near-perfect 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.4:1. You can immediately tell that this is a movie shot by a master photographer (by profession) as he frames every single shot expertly, creating images which you could freeze and use to create amazing still shots. The opening sequence on the frozen lake, the longer shots of the labyrinthine Italian towns, and then, as the movie progresses, the perfect images of the various characters, most notably the beautiful Viola Placido, whether during her introduction, where she is reflected in a mirror, or when she is lying, artfully half-naked, at the picnic. He knows how to bring every image to life, and the video presentation renders these images exactly how he intends you to see them – immaculate and perfect in every way. There’s no softness, no edge enhancement, not a glimpse of a digital defect, and no annoying edge enhancement. Every shot looks stunning. The colour scheme is often quite bleak, but only because of the setting – always rendering the (often cold) locations well, and only finding things harder to manage when dealing with the red-dominated inside of the brothel, where a touch of bleeding becomes evident. Black levels are excellent, making for solid night sequences, and allowing for supreme shadowing and overall this is most definitely an impressive, demo-quality film presentation.
On the audio side of things we get a well-nuanced DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which, whilst far from bombastic, effortlessly provides a keenly observed aural accompaniment to the quietly contemplative movie. Dialogue is presented clearly and coherently throughout, often in the form of soft-spoken words and observations, emanating from the frontal array wherever appropriate, although, occasionally, you’ll hear a shout or cry coming from behind you – so cleverly done that it might even make you turn around, or start a little. The effects are also mostly of the subtle, atmospheric variety, bringing you all the ambience you would expect from these quiet, rural locales, running water, chirping insects, the occasional vehicle rumbling past, the grinding of The American’s machinery as he puts together his deadly weapons. During the scant few more action-orientated sequences the haunting score (which is at the peak during the early credits tunnel sequence and the one of the final driving moments) becomes more urgent, and we get a few more gunshots – almost always of the muffled, suppressed variety – which whip out playfully across the array. Offering up keen dynamic regard in these and other moments, this is a very minimalist track for a minimalist film, and as such is perfectly suited. Adding to the tension no end (the moped backfiring will likely give you a considerable jump as a result) it’s a brilliant accompaniment to the movie, only lacking in that demo quality purely because of its lack of showy, in-your-face moments.
Not the easiest listen, Director Anton Corbijn’s full-length Audio Commentary is still compelling, and he does his best especially considering the fact that English is not his native language. Here he offers a contribution that is initially just scene-specific, but eventually develops into far more than that, talking about the original Swedish book upon which the story was based, the script changes, the character development, the location work, and even regaling some on-set antics. It’s as measured a commentary as you would expect from such a professional, and well worth checking out, even if you can’t handle it all in one hit.
Here we get just 5 minutes of Deleted Scenes, split into extended and new sequences. There’s an extra moment which helpfully explains how he has been tracked (although the mystery of not knowing who has betrayed him generally helps with the suspense), an extra couple of scenes with Jack and his client, Mathilde, further exploring Jack’s caution, as well as a nice new scene between him and the priest, further establishing their relationship, and an extra new scene between Jack and Clara, doing the same for theirs. Honestly, they don’t seem like amazing additions, but I think I would have been happy to have any and all added in. As is, it feels like quite a short movie (particularly for such a cleverly-paced one) so they would have made for a welcome extended cut.
Journey of Redemption: The Making of The American
Here we get 11 minutes with the cast and crew, talking about the movie’s themes – redemption, changing your life etc. – as well as its tributes: Sergio Leone Westerns and the morality within. They talk about the character of the loner, his suffering at the hand of all that he has done over the years, and the perfection of the role for an older, more adventurous George Clooney. We get footage of some of the scenes being shot, the cast preparing for their scenes, and, of course, plenty of final film cuts, all playing out as the contributors offer their commentary. Clooney’s on-set messing around is hilarious – the funny faces, the mocking impression of the Director, and the tales of his playfulness during the production – and certainly shows a refreshingly light-hearted side to both the production and the top-tier actor himself. This is a great little making-of.
The American is unique amongst its peers: a classy, methodically-paced mystery drama somewhat wrongly marketed as a fast-paced action-thriller. Here the threats are often left unseen, the tension almost unbearable, as you follow another unusual George Clooney character, this time perpetually cautious, distrustful of those around him, and wary of those who might have found him and might be following him. As you see the cracks in this professional’s armour slowly appear, the bonds he unwittingly forms with those around him, the less granite underbelly that he will eventually show to those close to him, you grow to appreciate the character development, the mood of the piece, and the minimalist style offered to the viewer - a true breath of fresh air in a year full of pretentious would-be classics and showy, effects-laden blockbusters. The American may not suit everybody’s tastes, and may remain truly accessible only to the discerning few, but for those who do take the time to fully appreciate it, the reward is unlike any other film that I have seen this year.
Released on Region Free US Blu-ray barely a month after its UK cinema release we get demo-quality video (which perfectly showcases the professional photographer-turned-Director’s keen eye for framing shots beautifully, like photographs), acutely observed audio, and a suitably minimalist selection of some of the better extras you would expect from an A-list title. Those who missed it at the cinema should definitely consider blind-buying it now, and fans of everything from Clooney’s own Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Solaris, as well as more character-driven films like There Will Be Blood, should consider this a worthy release for a surprisingly superior, classically stylised, modern masterpiece. Highly recommended.
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