Fans of George Clooney will probably rejoice here, because the film is essentially a one man show with plenty of closeups of their idol, with bonuses as he trades his shirt for tacky looking tattoos and a relatively muscular and toned upper body physique. He may have gotten on in years, but I must admit with some embarrassment his standard push ups make me look bad.
Clooney's Jack/Edward is a professional hitman, and the film opens with him hiding in Sweden apparently leading a new life of peace, until one day his enemies come hunting him down, and he realizes he's no longer safe. Escaping to Italy and getting in touch with his handler (Johan Leysen), he made the decision to stay in a small town, and with plenty of time to burn, contracts a job in manufacturing a sub machine gun capacity into a rifle capability, and the start of a relationship with a prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) and a friendship with a priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli).
But life for Jack/Edward is a living hell on earth. You can imagine the occupational hazards creeping up in real life for a hitman, with the tremendous mistrust of everyone around you, constantly looking over your shoulder, jumping at shadows and the slightest of sounds in the dark, and always packing a weapon nearby just in case. The search of peace becomes paramount especially when you want out, and this is something of a prized commodity.
Be warned, this is as close to an arthouse action film as can be, especially if you cannot stand quiet moments when nothing happens, with scenes that seem to be cyclic in nature involving phone booths, construction of a rifle, and sex. And this cyclic sequence works to a certain degree because an unassuming life, the peace and quiet, and the need to be alone and at ease is something Jack/Edward craves, and which director Anton Corbijn translates effectively to the screen. Based on a novel by Martin Booth, Corbijn paints a picturesque possibility of hope for Jack/Edward which Italy undoubtedly provides through the misc-en-scene, but as with all hitmen, this is nothing but a futile dream that is hardly attainable.
Don't expect plenty of action in The American, which is what everyone in town calls Jack/Edward because he's sticking out like a sore thumb in a small community, but Corbijn makes up for the limited action through the crafting of incredibly tense, edge of your seat moments which accentuates the air of fear constantly surrounding Clooney's character. And Clooney is definitely in top form in the portrayal of this role, that he single handedly makes the film an engaging one to sit through as we become eager to witness his pursuit of something difficult to attain, which will require him to drop everything when biding time contemplating retirement.
The American reminds me of the French comedy Hallelujah!, but minus any comedic moments. Measured in pace, peppered by beautiful shots and landscapes and with an American star in a muted lead role, this definitely is an acquired taste that goes against the grain of any typical hitman film.