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Those who believe they’d be happy watching George Clooney do nothing for two hours can now test that theory. Anton Corbijn’s The American is all Clooney, all the time, with the actor in nearly every scene, almost always looking glum. Why so serious? His character, Jack, is an assassin who hides out in Italy after a botched job in Sweden results in a dead bystander. Jack’s boss gives him a cell phone and information about a safehouse. But the killer-for-hire tosses the phone into the sea and holes up somewhere else, weary of the lifestyle and reconsidering his future.
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Corbijn’s second film (after 2007’s Joy Division biopic, Control) opens with Jack, a naked woman, and a stiff drink—followed by a burst of violence that rather shockingly interrupts the serenity—and you first imagine the protagonist as a stateside Bond, a sexier Bourne. Instead, this is more like Clooney’s Moon: Adapted from a Martin Booth novel, The American has a whole lot of nothing going on, except for Jack’s paranoia. He reluctantly accepts the friendship of an inquisitive (and, it turns out, quite insightful) priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and visits the world’s best-looking prostitute (Violante Placido). Jack also agrees to one last assignment, in which he must fashion a weapon for Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), a mysterious and ridiculously well-trained sniper who has a different hair color in each of her scenes. But Jack is suspicious of them all, as well as anyone who dares give him a second glance.
Of course, there wouldn’t be a movie if Jack weren’t occasionally right—but there still isn’t much of one. Ironically, Corbijn, predominantly a music-video director, uses very little music here, a tactic that’s initially mesmerizing when combined with long, artful takes of snow-covered landscapes, ancient Italian villages, or surreally lit tunnels. But, like a soccer game that ends in a 0-0 tie, the silence is eventually snooze-inducing no matter how many different ways Clooney manages to look pained in his self-inflicted isolation. (And, for the record, Clooney does an admirable job with the material.)
Bonacelli and Placido inject some life into the story—the former with the priest’s charm and remarkable read on Jack, who tells strangers that he’s a magazine photographer; and the latter with her hotness, particularly in one of the steamiest sex scenes you’ll see this side of an R-rating. (Spoiler alert: The hooker also starts to heart Jack. But are those D’s deadly?) Even watching Mathilde assemble a gun is more exciting than seeing our hero brood. The American closes on a high note, with an action/sad-face sequence that involves an inventive kill, some Western-worthy sharpshooting, and a chance for Jack to finally escape it all. It’s a satisfying end to the inertia, as much for the quality of the movie itself as the knowledge that your marathon of checking your watch is almost over.