Anton Corbijn's The American can kinda be described as the anti-Jason-Bourne-movie; While Matt Damon's super spy trilogy is a heart-racing actioner about an assassin who can't remember his own past, Corbijn's effort is a slow-burning, methodical thriller about an assassin who remembers his past all too well. It's a refreshing change of pace for this type of genre movie.
George Clooney is at his understated best, playing the most professional of professional killers with a non-fussy attitude and excellent dramatic timing. His character has a weakness for women, and consequently, he finds himself mistrusting all his female encounters. While hiding out in a small Italian town for one last job (to equip a fellow assassin with the weapon for her next target), he naturally makes the acquaintance of an earnest prostitute (the sultry Violante Placido), even though memories of a tragic prologue in Sweden warn him not to grow attached. When he realizes that his enemies have tracked him down, his suspicions immediately fire up.
The simplicity of this narrative (nicely adapted by Rowan Joffe from the novel A Very Private Gentleman) and the relative lack of dialogue allow Corbijn to commit attention to character, providing a perfect stage for the subtlety and detail of Clooney's performance. Corbijn's talent as a still photographer also serves his film well, as each frame is composed very much with a photographer's eye. Working closely with DP Martin Ruhe, the two have produced one of the most effectively shot films of the year, placing emphasis on soft lighting and elegant focus work to ease us into a state of paranoia.
Regrettably, AMPAS is not likely to show any interest in a late summer art house thriller (“No Oscar for you”), which is a shame because it is soooo deserving of nominations for Best Actor and Cinematography at the least.
*** out of ****