Many films work hard in their opening scenes to establish sympathy with their central character. Not The American – we witness Jack (George Clooney) shoot dead his lover when she witnesses him dispatch a would-be assassin. What sort of man are we dealing with here? We see very little sign of moral anguish in Jack – although late in the film, he has a flashback to the scene, perhaps a sign that he has changed.
Jack constructs weapons, but he wants out. He accepts one last job, and moves to a small Italian town to build the weapon to the right specifications. He is befriended by a prostitute and a priest, both of whom want to help him, and both of whom think the first step is for him to confess his secret. Jack is constantly looking over his shoulder – who is going to try to kill him, the unexplained Swedes, the priest, the prostitute or the woman assassin he is building the weapon for?
It is never made clear who Jack is working for. Mainstream films will tend to justify the violence of a hero. The justness of their cause is established; good and evil are clearly defined. But the absolute absence of motives or reasons makes the violence seem meaningless. It’s like the black spy versus the white spy in Mad Magazine – who’s the goodie? There isn’t one! The rejection of the myth of redemptive-violence makes it a film closer to an Anabaptist’s understanding of the nature of violence and its effect on humans.
The other interesting angle for Christians is the redemption offered to Jack by the priest and the prostitute. Both want to draw him out of his solitude, to bring him to a point where he can trust another human. The priest tells Jack that Jack knows hell is real – he isliving in it, because he is living in his unconfessed sin.
The prostitute genuinely cares for him, and pursues him as a lover rather than a client. But he illustrates so clearly that if you are not trustworthy, you cannot trust others. She has a small gun in her handbag to protect herself against clients; he assumes she is trying to kill him. There is small redemption at the end of the film, where he decides to make a new life with her, even though it proves to be too late.