A rifle is a device crafted by a skilled artist; it combines an elegant design with a destructive purpose and has the ability to mandate change with the aid of a single finger.
Such is the creation of the American (George Clooney), a mysterious professional who apparently fulfills personal weapon requests for clandestine agents. His past is as mysterious as his present, and it can be inferred that his journey has left him paranoid and better off without an identity, though he does introduce himself with the names Jack or Edward.
After escaping an assassination attempt in Sweden, the American relocates to a small town in the Abruzzo region of Italy where he contacts a familiar, Pavel (Johan Leysen), for work. From there he meets with Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), an agent who requires a weapon that combines the firing capacity of a submachine gun and the long-range accuracy of a rifle.
Our nameless friend is briefed on the specifics of this desired tool, but never inquires into its use –a chosen ignorance that could be a portrayal of his professional experience but it’s more likely that this is a hint that he’s looking for an exit strategy.
His residence in this small town allows him to make contact with Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) and a prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido). These relationships, though somewhat guarded, provide the American with a reason to finally escape his career, and even the chance to create an actual identity.
However, suspicious activities, combined with professional paranoia, lead the American to believe that the failed attempt to terminate him has followed him south. The story takes an obvious progression from there and, like most films in the thriller genre, builds tension into a climactic finish.
"The American" is an enjoyable story (adapted from the 1990 novel "A Very Private Gentleman" by Martin Booth), though it’s fairly predictable and somewhat routine for the genre. Despite the aforementioned, it’s difficult to actually find anything wrong with the movie.
Filming largely takes place in Castel del Monte, a township in the Abruzzo region of Italy. The area’s stunning beauty is captured extensively in the film and director Anton Corbjin, who has spent most of his career directing music videos, makes an incredible effort to pay attention to each and every detail. The camerawork is impeccable, and Corbjin’s style allows most of the story to be told through visuals, which makes the film both a terrific tale and a delightful artwork.
The acting, which is largely supplied by European actors, is appropriate, though it’s hard to distinguish anything more, considering the lack of dialogue.
Bonacelli, who actually made an appearance in "Mission: Impossible III," pitches Benedetto as a beleaguered priest who holds a watchful eye over his mountain village. Though it’s unlikely he’s ever ventured too far from home, the father has a knack for seeing through the foreign visitor.
As Clara, Placido combines the naïveté of a girl from a secluded village with the humbled experiences of a brothel veteran. The relationship that develops between her and the American is somewhat backward: their preliminary date succeeds a few ‘professional’ visits and Clara, the prostitute, is the one calling the shots.
Clooney, as the lead, fits his role perfectly and does a great job conveying the elements that might come with his circumstance –paranoia, fear and a reluctant urge to find a comfortable life. This character is somewhat reminiscent of Ryan Bingham (Clooney’s role in "Up in the Air") and is yet another recent triumph in Clooney’s acting career.
Like a rifle, this film is beautifully crafted by a talented artist, and, even more like a rifle, it combines a magnificent design with a fantastic ending.