In this film publicity image released by Focus Features, George...

In this film publicity image released by Focus Features, George Clooney is shown in a scene from, "The American." (AP Photo/Focus Features, Giles Keyte) Credit: AP Photo/Giles Keyte

The fast-action "Bourne" movies are great for what they are, and people seeking something similar with Dutch director Anton Corbijn's "The American" will find themselves wondering when all the meaningful silences, surreally isolated landscapes and implication-filled conversations will end and the shoot-'em-up will begin.

The answer is: All in due time.

There's no lack of gunplay in this story of a hired killer seeking respite and refuge in an ancient village in Italy's Abruzzo region. But there's also no lack of characters' questing for meaning, for connection and for a way out of one priest's definition of hell: a place where love does not exist.

George Clooney plays Jack Clark, a hired killer who, by this point in his career, seems unsure of just how he got here. He's good at what he does, but he's no nerves-of-steel superagent. Now, after a soul-deadening shootout in Sweden, he's laying low in Castel del Monte, a town hemmed in by mountains and clouds. There he works on the commission of his employer (Johan Leysen) to build a custom-made, compact semiautomatic rifle for an ethereal hit lady (Thekla Reuten).

Jack knows not to make friends, but he longs for human contact and gets a limited dose, connecting with the weathered village priest (Paolo Bonacelli) and local prostitute (Violante Placido).

With its design-infused style, its deliberate pace and its pondering of the whys and hows of death-dealing-for-hire - the latter through almost fetishistic attention to such handiwork as the making of gun barrels and mercury-fulminate-tipped bullets - "The American" recalls the late 1960s and '70s existential Italian crime dramas called poliziotteschi. These movies, though usually told from the point of view of police, were often set in similar milieus and carried the same weight-of-the-world gravitas, the same feeling of being surrounded by betrayal and corruption.

Clooney is one of the few American leading men who could capture this haunted quality, and he well essays that antiheroic questioning of one's own worth when the answer is all too clear.

 

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