Having tried something professionally, succeeded in my ambitions and yet still somehow fallen short, I can empathize with Anton Corbijn. His new film, The American, feels like exactly the movie he wanted to make, and it also feels like the movie his investors and collaborators knew they were making. But it doesn't feel like the movie they thought they would get from doing exactly what they wanted, which is why audiences will probably feel like it's not the movie they want to see. Corbijn, who previously directed the elegant, tragic Ian Curtis biopic, has crafted an equally elegant film for his follow-up, but its only genuine tragedy is that it doesn't feel more, well, tragic, leaving The American relegated to the status of noble failure even as it delivers an otherwise pretty (and pretty familiar) thriller about an aging hitman.
George Clooney plays Jack, an assassin who departs for parts unknown after his Icelandic hideout is attacked by revenge-seeking Swedes. Arriving in the Italian countryside at the behest of his boss Pavel (Johan Leysen), he strikes up an unexpected friendship with a local priest (Paolo Bonacetti) before being recruited for a new job: build a weapon for another assassin named Mathilde (Thekla Reuten). He agrees to deliver the weapon, but soon realizes that even its considerable payday may not be enough to help him escape his shadowy past, especially after he meets a young prostitute named Clara (Violante Placido) whose companionship makes him begin to long for a more normal life.