A mysterious professional killer, let’s call him Jack (George Clooney), has become disillusioned with his career. Jack can’t make friends because he’s always the target of other killers. His “friends” often get in the way, they get dead. After managing to survive an attack by a couple of Swedish killers, Jack takes off for Italy where he meets with another shady guy and gets a new contract. Holed up in a charming small town in Italy, Jack meditates on the rest of his life. And while doing it, he makes friends.
A solemn and largely contemplative tale, THE AMERICAN is the kind of pet project that only George Clooney (who lives in Italy) could get made and released in something more than a limited theatrical manner. Joyless and dark, this movie will make you appreciate other like films (like THE MATADOR) that have some fun with the subject while retaining a measure of serious pathos. The romantic notion of the jet set hitman is still viable, but in the real world, Jack’s life is probably as romantic as it gets. And showing us how it really is just isn’t very entertaining.
While THE AMERICAN won’t damage the career of the star Clooney, it will not please his mass audience who expect that this will be something like RONIN meets THE BOURNE IDENTITY. Instead what we get is a very good performance by Clooney without the trademark wise-cracks and swagger. It is a failed experiment but not one without interest. Although there are plenty of fun projects in the hopper for Clooney, the next one will likely be the Alexander Payne film THE DESCENDANTS. That one promises more pain and suffering that has become director Payne’s calling card. And while the beaten and introspective incarnation of the movie star Clooney is impactful (call it his acting side), most of us want to see the wise-guy. THE AMERICAN is not the George Clooney you know and love.