The film from Dutch director Anton Corbijn is as meticulous, enigmatic and restrained as its protagonist. For those interested in where it ranks on the thrillometer, let us say that Corbijn's film is a haunting rather than a galvanizing experience.
Adapted from the novel A Very Private Gentleman by the late Martin Booth, The American (a British operative in the novel) resembles one of those melancholy Grahame Greene/John le Carré stories about a man expertly trained to be a cog in the engine of a superpower, plying his trade long after that engine has melted down.
Clooney, eyes alert in a soul-weary face, plays Jack as a withdrawn figure whose reserve draws people to him.
Hiding out in the Italian medieval hilltop village Castel del Monte, "the American" quickly excites the attention of the local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), who invites him over to ponder The Wages of Sin between sips of Armagnac. (Since Bonacelli resembles Rodney Dangerfield, I half expected their conversations to erupt in laughter.)
With the padre, "Jack" remains cryptic. Is he himself a killer or a killer of killers? What does he fear more, love or death?
With a client, Mathilde (the lovely Thekla Reuten), for whom he is fashioning a custom weapon as finely machined and tuned as an instrument, he asks, "I suppose I'll read about this in the International Herald Tribune?"
His relationship with a prostitute, Clara (the fetching Violante Placido, who has a lovely Isabella Rossellini smile), tests Jack to the max.
He wants to let down his guard and get close to her. But it's as if his professional armor is soldered to his skin and no one can really touch him.
Heavyhearted without being heavy-handed, Corbijn's lyrical movie is about a man who has built his own cell and become his own jailer.
Contact movie critic Carrie Ricket at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/