In the opening sequence of The American, George Clooney is in the middle of a hookup in snowy Sweden when he bumps off the two men who’ve been hired to kill him and shoots the woman he was sleeping with in the back. (She’s innocent, but he can leave no witnesses.) That’s a promising moment — it suggests that Clooney is playing the sort of sociopathic hitman one remembers from films like The Day of the Jackal (1973). But The American, directed by Anton Corbijn (Control), turns out to be a draggy, rather morose art thriller. Clooney’s Jack, a weary veteran of the assassin lifestyle, is a sinner out to save himself, and the film portrays him like Jason Bourne on a fake-Antonioni journey of redemption.
In the Italian village of Sulmona, where Jack is told to wait for his next assignment, he hangs out in cafés and wine bars, getting involved with a prostitute (Violante Placido) as sweet as she is voluptuous. There’s a lot of fancy minimalist jabber about advanced weaponry (rifle-sight ratios and mercury-tipped bullets, that sort of thing), but the film’s procedural intrigue doesn’t build — it dissipates. The role requires Clooney to dial down his charm to nearly zero, and frankly, he looks twitchy and uncomfortable without it. Jack is supposed to be so dead-calm cool his heart needs unfreezing, but Clooney is too softly self-aware to make that believable. The American ends the summer not with a bang but an existential whimper. C