The title of George Clooney's latest would suggest that here's a film reminiscent of Mom and apple pie. In truth, the picture has more in common with Padre and panna cotta.
Deliberately paced and artfully rendered, The American frequently feels like an Antonioni knockoff whose prints ended up at the nation's multiplexes instead of its art-houses. Working from Martin Booth's novel A Very Private Gentleman, Dutch director Anton Corbijn and British scripter Rowan Joffe have fashioned a quiet, meditative piece about a seasoned assassin, Jack, who finds himself on the run from other hitmen. Ordered by his boss (Johan Leysen) to hide out in a small Italian town, Jack is soon tasked with providing another killer, the enigmatic Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), with a specially crafted rifle so she can carry out her own assignment. Having recently killed an innocent lover in order to cover his own tracks, Jack knows better than to get involved with anyone in the village, but he rebels against his own instincts, befriending an elderly priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and becoming romantically entangled with a local prostitute (Violante Placido).
An established master of minimalism, Clooney keeps his emotions close to the vest, an appropriate response given his character's existential outlook. The rest of the film follows suit, rarely breaking a sweat in its observations of Jack and his claustrophobic, suffocating lifestyle. The one exception to the low-volume level is a vehicular chase that punctuates the proceedings like a pin to a balloon; the rest of the film is moody and mannered, an approach certain to divide moviegoers. For me, the thoughtful pace was appreciated; what wasn't appreciated was that it's wrapped around a tale that could have used a little more inspiration in branching out its characters. A weary hitman, a hooker with a heart of gold and a jovial priest might be the basis for a great joke were they all to enter a bar, but as the central ingredients of a story meant to compel, this assemblage predates even the U.S. Constitution.