It’s a quiet film, slowly moving, but amazingly compelling. It’s not going to end well, but it will end for all involved. Call it intuition, but the lead character’s (George Clooney) act in the first five minutes pretty much foreshadows that he will pay a huge price. I simpler, more formulaic movie might have let the hero off the hook during a revealing conversation with his boss shortly thereafter. But this American knows what he did, and had no illusions, or rather delusions, about his victim’s loyalties. The heavy fact of this imbues the remainder of the picture with a intense dread and inexorability that fills the long silences.
The American (“Jack” or “Edward”, depending on who he is talking to) escapes an opening assassination attempt and reluctantly accepts “one last job” from his boss. The American trusts no one and finds his solace in a small town with a beautiful prostitute (Violante Placido), who spending a significant portion of the picture either partially or fully naked. It’s a good thing she’s eye-poppingly beautiful. Also attractive is his female assassin counterpart, for which he is building a special gun for her work. At a moment of intimacy after a weapons demonstration, it feels as if she expects to be seduced by him. But his perhaps surprises himself by remaining distant for want of his new companion, who pressed herself into his life. We know by now that is a dangerous thing for her to want.
The film’s only misstep for me is the plot of the Italian priest who befriends the American. It felt a little forced to insert some redemptive figure who has their own secrets and shame. Otherwise, “The American” is a compelling, satisfying visual treat.