• James Rutherford

'The American': A Taut and Finely-Tuned Depiction of a Hitman on the Lam in the Italian Mountains


Movie poster for the 2010 film The American

The American (2010) is a taut and seductive thriller starring George Clooney as Jack, a contract killer who has gone into hiding in rural Sweden. After surviving a surreptitious ambush by assassins and managing to escape Scandanavia, he takes flight to Italy in order to track down his handler Pavel (Johan Leysen).


Learning that Jack is being pursued by deadly operatives, Pavel sends him to the rural village of Castelvecchio in the mountains of Abruzzo to lay low for the time being. After a period of inactivity, Pavel pairs Jack with a female assassin named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) to build a custom sniper rifle, while Jack develops a friendship with a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and a burgeoning relationship with a local prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). Despite his yearning for fulfillment and growing affections for Clara, however, his dark past soon threatens to overtake him.


Expertly directed by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbjin (Control, A Most Wanted Man) and based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, The American is an understated yet absorbing character study of a killer quite near the end of his tether. Clooney turns in a remarkably rich internal performance, relying on minimal dialogue and conveying his moral conflict through his world-weary eyes. Impeccably stylized, paced and executed (with a major tip of the hat to cinematographer Martin Ruhe), it's a strikingly deliberate exercise in dramatic tension and existential finality.

 

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