Rated R for violence, sexual content and nudity, 106 minutes
Clooney is "The American," a dark, subdued but stylish thriller
If you watched the Emmy Awards earlier this week, you got a chance to see an abundance of George Clooney. He was given a humanitarian award and also showed off his comic chops in a skit with TV's "Modern Family." The ever-versatile Clooney shows off his dark, serious side in the low-key new spy thriller "The American," which much like the actor himself is intelligent, suave and handsome. It's more of a moody, slow-moving character study than action-adventure, but the refined Clooney gives you something to watch.
As an assassin, Jack (Clooney) is constantly on the move and always alone. After a job in Sweden ends more harshly than expected for this American, Jack retreats to the Italian countryside. He relishes being away from death for a spell as he holes up in a small medieval town. While there, Jack takes an assignment to construct a weapon for a mysterious contact, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten).
Savoring the peace he finds in the mountains of Italy, Jack accepts the friendship of local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and pursues a torrid liaison with a beautiful woman, Clara (Violante Placido). Jack and Clara’s time together evolves into a romance, one seemingly free of danger. But by stepping out of the shadows, Jack may be tempting fate.
A subdued but dark Clooney turn makes the handsomely shot "The American" worthwhile. It's often very leisurely and understated, but then that is also part of the appeal. On one hand, you wish more would happen, but what does happen is usually satisfying enough. Music video director Anton Corbijn has the enviable task of directing Clooney this time out, and he handles the Italian scenery well along with eliciting an unusually low-key performance from the Oscar-winning actor. Corbijn lacks efficiency in moving the story along (the first hour seems much longer) and needs to tighten up the film's pacing a bit.
The glum screenplay by Rowan Joffe (son of acclaimed director Roland Joffe) is flawed: it's overly familiar and lacks depth, but Clooney, with his usual charm and skill, makes it more entertaining and interesting than it really is. There are some decent twists and turns along the way to get you to the haunting ending, yet it seems in no rush to get there.
"The American" may be too slow for some and true it isn't Clooney's best, but his low-key, earnest turn makes it worth seeing.