features George Clooney as
, a figure of some mystery to those he encounters. Jack is a “good man” in the view of a prostitute with whom he finds himself involved, but someone “with a secret.”
Jack finds himself in Abruzzo, a small community in the Italian countryside. Pavel, his contact, has arranged for him to construct a weapon for another mysterious contact, an assassin named Mathilde. While in Abruzzo, Jack is befriended by Benedetto, an elderly Catholic priest, and Clara, a prostitute.
In discussions about The American at IMDB, the first board had the heading: “Top Five of Worst Movies Ever.” Ironically, the person posting remarked that until The American, the worst he’d seen was Babel. In fact though, The American was, I imagine, one of the better films of 2010, and certainly the best I saw.
The American, I found, was very Christian in its themes (although not remotely Puritan in its depiction of the human body). The film evidenced to me how hope or love can bring healing to the human person.
During a conversation with Jack, Fr. Benedetto drops the line: “A man can be rich if he has God in his heart.” In his encyclical Spe Salvi , the Pope discuses how hope heals, not by curing a person from his or her burdens, but by allowing that person to face his or her present with the conviction that the present leads towards a goal, and that this goal justifies the efforts of one’s journey.
By a person experiencing something of what awaits, hope allows a person to disassociate healthily from his or her present situation. Hope frees a person from what might otherwise hold him or her down. Seeing Jack as a man desiring peace, Fr. Benedetto observes that those seeking peace, often have much sinning in their history, but through his friendship with Jack, Fr. Benedetto allows Jack the possibility of disassociating himself with his past, and of freeing himself from what might otherwise overwhelm him.
Jack’s relationship with Clara emerges as central to this movement. In another encyclical, this time Deus Caritas Est, the Pope discusses the movement towards self-abandonment, and how a love which heals consists in the movement beyond one’s own selfish character, and beyond submission to one’s own instinct, towards a desire for the other’s good.
When Jack says, after some “activity” with Clara, that he has “come to get pleasure, not give it,” we see in his words a certain baseness, but how, eventually, through Clara’s love of him, and her desire for his betterment, the possibility exists for his own transformation.
Ultimately, The American is a story holding out the possibility of redemption, and those are the best sorts.
Here’s a trailer.