Let's say this upfront: The American is not an audience movie in the generally recognized sense of the term.
It is not an action movie.
It is not a thriller in any conventional sense.
Forget about the TV commercials and theatrical trailers that make it look like George Clooney is playing some Jason Bourne-like character, mowing down every bad guy who gets in his way.
It's not that movie. Instead, it's an art film. Anyone who goes in expecting it to be in any way a typical Hollywood product will be sorely disappointed.
Now, having said that, let me say how much I enjoyed The American. It is one of the most beautifully photographed, controlled, even formal films I've seen in a long time. It's a character study with a thoroughly European sensibility, an examination of one man coming to terms with his own sins and shortcomings. It is a film that rewards the patient viewer with a superbly understated Clooney performance; everyone else will, unfortunately, be bored silly.
As played by Clooney, Jack (or Edward, depending on who he's talking to) is a professional killer whose last job went south in a bad way. Initially seen in a post-prandial pose in a Swedish cabin on a wintry lake with a naked woman, it ends with Clooney having killed three people.
As he rides a ferry back to whatever it is that his life is, the bearded Clooney has a decidedly haunted cast to his features. That slightly doomy countenance -- not nervous but intensely alert, as much anticipating the hand of karma as guarding against the expected bullet from an enemy -- rarely leaves Clooney's face through The American.
Jack heads for Rome, where his employer (Johan Leysen) offers him a refuge and another assignment: a job that doesn't involve killing anyone. Rather, he heads for a tiny town in the Italian hills, where he meets a woman (Thekla Reuten) in search of a custom-made weapon, one with the capacity of a machine gun and the range of a rifle. Jack's job is to build it for her (though his mantra to anyone who asks is "I'm not good with machines"). She's obviously a professional, but Jack is so much of a pro (and so withdrawn) that he only asks about specifications and otherwise speaks when spoken to.
And, really, that's it.