"The American" stars George Clooney as an assassin biding his time in the hills of Italy while he awaits his last assignment. As is typically the case in these scenarios, the guy falls for a girl and things get a little more complicated than your standard murder-for-hire.
The film opens with Jack (Clooney) and a woman taking a walk across a frozen lake in rural Sweden. Things go very badly very quickly and soon we see Clooney on the phone with his boss/handler griping about "the Swedes" and demanding help, which eventually comes in the form of directions to a small town in Italy where he is to await further notice.
The film has a sensibility that harkens back to U.S. cinema of the 1970s -- specifically Francis Ford Coppola's "The Conversation" -- as well as Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name," and a touch of "High Noon." Director Anton Corbijn ("Control") and screenwriter Rowan Joffe ("28 Weeks Later") have built a story that considers the interconnectedness of all of our actions, where morality begins and ends and what -- if anything -- is important in life. It's a very simple story that works.
Strangely, the film is more like "Up in the Air," Clooney's critically acclaimed film from last year, than any other. In both films Clooney plays a man whose life most would find at the very least morally suspect if not spiritually bankrupt. And in both cases it's a failed romance that forces him to reconsider what he's doing with his life. Could it be Clooney's trying to tell us something?
It's a quiet, thoughtful film that moves at a very leisurely pace, one that might prove maddening for some. There are long stretches of silence as Clooney ponders his fate, his morality, his life or the assassin's rifle he's building in his apartment. Sometimes he's chewing -- literally -- on all of them.
Jack's only two "friends" in town are, appropriately enough, Father Bennedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and Clara (the insanely gorgeous Violante Placido), a local prostitute. His first words to the priest are a lie and he is is by turns hostile and rude to the older man, but keeps returning to his company.
But with Clara, as one might imagine, it's a very different matter. The sex scenes between the two are pretty explicit and go a long way toward casting light on Jack's true nature. Without getting into too much detail, just know that in the heat of the moment they do and say things that are anathema to the standard prostitute-john relationship.
Corbijn's vision is beautiful, with numerous aerial shots, lots of dark alleys with blue and sepia filters and gorgeous views of the Italian countryside and some of the timeless villages that top the peaks of the hills. Sadly, Corbijn's most unfortunate misstep comes in the film's final shot -- any time the the end of your movie reminds a viewer of "Patch Adams," you've made a grave mistake.
But don't let the specter of Robin Williams keep you away. "The American" is a slow burn of paranoid suspense, romance and intrigue framed by some nice performances and beautiful camerawork.