The American

The American  |  Director Anton Corbijn  |  Score: 6.1

Appropriately enough, the vast majority of guns in this American assassin abroad film are equipped with silencers, the bullets barely make a sound before slicing through their given targets. The film follows suit. In what could only be described as a deliberate pace, with great attention to small detail, it recounts a few idyllic weeks (months?) as our American, Jack (George Clooney), after a failed attempt on his life in Sweden, hides out in a small Italian village in Abruzzo.

Before long, he’s hired for a job, building a top-of-the-line custom rifle for another assassin, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) for one of her upcoming assignments. Tooling around the countryside, putting the gun together, Jack also takes up with a local prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido), spends a good deal of time in the woods and is paranoid enough to sleep with his gun cradled in his hand. As for plot, that’s more or less about all you get. The film is far less concerned with melodramatic flourishes of narrative and much more involved with the basic stuff of Jack’s life. We never learn terribly much about him, but we seemingly learn a great deal about the business of building a gun from assembled parts.

As such, with its languid pace, undersold emotions, and effectively evocative cinematography from DP Martin Ruhe, it builds its intensity and increasing tension from the ground up. It’s another ’70s throwback film, in other words, a sort of mixture of The Day of the Jackal and The Conversation. Though not really close to their class — for all its attention to scant detail, we never get very much more than a surface reading of the film’s characters — it does have a certain satisfying gait. It allows us to take pleasure from something as mundane as Jack’s OCD-like impulse to smooth out the wrinkled paper bag from under a just-produced canister of bullets, and his repeated mantra that he’s “no good with machines.” It’s not every film that would take a lethal assassin and essentially put him on ice for the vast majority of the remaining running time, but it sure does give you an appreciation for the gorgeous Italian countryside.


Piers Marchant is a Philly-based writer and editor, and the EIC (and film critic) for magazine ( His reviews can be found on and his tumblr blog, Sweet Smell of Success.  You can also follow him on twitter @kafkaesque83.

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