American hitman Jack (George Clooney) flees from Sweden after assassins make an attempt on his life. Heading to Rome, the cold-blooded contract killer is instructed by his handler Pavel (Johan Leysen) to hide out in the picturesque mountain region of Abruzzo. Choosing Castel del Monte, rather than the destination Pavel specified, Jack tries to keep a low profile, although local priest Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli) takes an interest in this reticent stranger.
Taking on a job for Pavel which involves supplying a client, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), with a custom-made sniper rifle, Jack also strikes up a relationship with Clara (Violante Placido), a prostitute he has been frequenting.
Living in constant fear of life, Jack begins to suspect that those around him are conspiring to have him killed and makes plans to pre-empt their actions.
A former photographer and music video director, Anton Corbijn made his feature film debut with the evocative Ian Curtis biopic Control. His background in eye-catching visuals is more than apparent in this beautifully shot Euro thriller based on the book A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth. Its measured pace however, left some critics scratching their heads, which is a real shame, given that this is typically classy and well-crafted Clooney-produced fare that gives the actor the opportunity to flex some previously underused acting muscles.
Detached and haunted, Clooney's Jack has the composure of a cornered animal. His troubled killer is a grippingly unknowable character who is mercifully free of flip Clooney-isms.
Sparse and yet visually sumptuous, The American may stray into arty clichés from time to time as it transparently juxtaposes the beauty of nature with its protagonist's unforgiving occupation. Ultimately, however, it's a uniquely personal and believably gritty portrait of a character type that's been done to death in the movies, but rarely with such style, nuance and poignancy.