I don't know whether it was intentional but "The American" is a misleading movie or at least misleading until you watch it because it looks and sounds like George Clooney playing the role of an assassin in an action thriller when in truth he may play an assassin but this is a drama about a changing man. In truth "The American" with its European feel is closer to Bertolucci's "The Conformist" than say Stallone in "Assassins" which may disappoint those expecting excitement and action but when you get in to the drama of this expert assassin beginning to change it is none the less exciting.
Jack (George Clooney - Up in the Air), who sometimes goes by Edward is an expert assassin, not only a sharp shooter but also a man who knows his way around a gun and who has dedicated his life to being the best forcing him to have no ties or relationships. But things are changing as there are men after him and having had to shoot a woman he had started to have feelings for is starting to wonder whether it is time to call it a day. After the latest incident he calls his boss Pavel (Johan Leysen) who not only arranges for him to hide out in an Italian town but arranges a simple job of supplying a special weapon to a female client. Much to his surprise not only does he find friendship with a local priest but also begins to feel something for a prostitute Clara (Violante Placido).
So as already mentioned "The American" is not an action thriller, it may start with a scene which features an assassin trying to kill Jack and Jack taking extreme steps to protect who he is but it is really about Jack changing. That change is despite having completely dedicated himself to being the ultimate assassin he feels a yearning for some form of human connection be it a friendship or something more. But what that means for us is the complications which that brings as he finds himself getting close to Clara because not only does he have trust issues he also has to rationalise that maybe he will have to kill her.
There are also the added elements that as an expert he is also a craftsman, building a specialised weapon for a woman and with people actually after him more trust issues. And this escalates because he also knows that when he decides that enough is enough and informs Pavel that he wants out Pavel will probably try and have him silenced like he would to any one who would be a threat. All of this makes for a surprisingly engrossing drama with a real European flare about it as we enter Jack's world and embrace the change which is all the more surprising as we get no back story to any of the characters, just a look at their lives in the now.
Whilst Anton Corbijn's direction is brilliant and both Violante Placido and Thekla Reuten deliver entertaining characters "The American" works because it stars George Clooney. Clooney has the closest thing going to old fashioned Hollywood charisma, he can flash a smile and you believe that he can charm a woman into bed but at the same time he can fix those eyes and deliver intensity as well as fear. It is this which makes Jack come to life because as a man of few words we get inside his head by the way he reacts, the care taken in filling down a bullet tells us that he is a craftsman, the ruthlessness when killing a lover speaks of his dedication but that gentleness with Clara tells us he wants more. In many ways Jack is a very different sort of character for Clooney but he handles this cold man brilliantly.
What this all boils down to is that "The American" could disappoint if you expected a thriller full of action but if you let this drama of a man on the verge of a change take hold it is a fascinating, well acted and well directed drama which breaks conventions but does so brilliantly.