Jack (George Clooney) is apparently spending a holiday in a remote, wooded area in the wintertime with his lady love. As they take a stroll in the fresh snow, Jack notices a set of footprints in the snow. He immediately grabs his lady by the hand and rushes to the nearest shelter, provided by some large rocks. It was just in time, too, as gunshots ricochet off the rocks. Jack pulls out a gun, which surprises his lover, flanks the shooter and shoots him dead. He then orders his lady to run back to their cabin and call the police; she takes two steps and Jack shoots her in the back of the head. Wait...the hero executes his lover? Interesting. He then circles around to the nearest road and sneaks up on his assailant's back-up, killing him, too.
Jack changes his look (he shaves off his beard and cuts his hair) and makes his way to Rome, where he contacts Pavel (Johan Leysen). Pavel acts as a go-between for Jack and his employers. They meet, Jack tells his story, and Pavel tells him to go into hiding; Pavel gives Jack a cell phone, a car, and a town to lay low in. Jack follows his instructions, but caution gets the better of him and he ditches the phone and the car and finds another small town to hide in. Eventually, Jack contacts Pavel again and is offered a job. Jack is apparently a custom weapon maker, who dabbles in killing for hire. His customer, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), is interested in a gun with the power of a submachine gun and the range of a rifle, but with stealth. She's not the only new friend Jack makes while in hiding; he also frequents a particular prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido), who likes him enough to see him socially. Between visits from these two very different women, Jack also notices strange men paying him particular attention in town. Who is trying to kill Jack, and why? Why does he do what he does? Should we hate the player, or just the game? I won't lie to you; not all of these questions are answered in The American.
This movie feels SO European. Part of it is the unfamiliar cast, aside from Clooney, but the rest comes from the tone. There is very little musical score in the movie; most of the sound is ambient. There is very little dialogue in the film, and there are no monologues or voice-overs to let you know what characters are thinking. It is very common for several minutes to pass without anything said on screen. This is a movie that is trying to live up to the title of a thriller --- this movie is about building suspense. But, like I said before, it is doing so in a European art-house fashion, which means that there is very little action and lots of anticipation.
The acting is good throughout. George Clooney is surprisingly subdued, but it matches the character well. I was surprised at just how old Clooney can look with a full beard; it's not because he's gone gray --- the man is a silver fox --- but his "concerned" look causes his forehead to crease, showing enough deep ridges to be favorably compared to a pack of hot dogs. Seriously, it's like his forehead is ribbed for her pleasure. It goes away when he smiles, but he's going to look crotchety in his old age, I can tell.
Not everyone is going to enjoy director Anton Corbijn's adaptation of the novel A Very Private Gentleman. Corbijn goes out of his way to show and not tell things, and that leaves the audience with the burden of figuring things out for themselves. It's very doable, of course, but not everyone likes that much work when they watch a movie. It was beautifully shot, but the pacing was intentionally slow. And it's not just a little slow, either --- this is worse than church traffic slow.
I enjoyed a lot of things in this movie. I appreciated the cinematography, I liked the acting, and it was pretty cool watching Clooney build a gun from basic parts. I really liked the way that Jack was overly cautious about Clara's affection for him; it was very anti-spy movie for him to get answers first and sex later. The first scene was completely awesome and some parts of this movie were suitably nerve-wracking, too. In truth, this movie felt like a proper spy story. It's intelligent and patient and, when the time comes, full of cat-and-mouse strategy. I just wish it was more exciting. As much as I enjoyed the movie, I found my attention wandering. The film isn't too long, clocking in at just over 100 minutes, but it felt at least half an hour longer. I hate to be another stupid American viewer, but the movie's pace was glacial. If you cut out twenty minutes of nothing happening, I would have liked it a lot more. As it stands, though, I'm going to have to dock it some points for losing my attention, despite a lot of quality work involved.