"I don't think God is very interested in me, Father."
There's a beautiful scene near the end of Anton Corbijn's The American where George Clooney is feverishly driving to rendezvous with his lover. The camera stays on Clooney's face throughout and in his eyes, they tell an account of a life that is only briefly exposed during the narrative. It is a tale of sacrifice and loneliness. Of betrayal and abandonment. This scene is like many during the film, where expression speaks over the absent dialogue.
Earlier we are introduced to Clooney's Jack in a cabin in the Swedish countryside. Seemingly happy, side by side with a naked woman, Ingrid, the two later share an affectionate walk across a frozen lake. Cinematographer Martin Ruhe repeatedly allows us to be soaked into the environment; it becomes equally important as the people that reside there. An ambush snaps Jack back to reality and after a serene gunfight, Jack murders his would be assailants, as well as Ingrid, although reluctantly so.
He is a composed assassin; an artist whose tools are not brushes but rifles; his canvases are the bodies that add up around him. His existence is one of exclusivity; he is persistent in his moves, seemingly always one step ahead of his attackers. The assault in Sweden sends Jack to hide out in the Abruzzo region of Italy by the order of his handler Pavel. Pavel assigns him one last job. Here we meet Mathilde (Thekla Reuten) who commissions Jack to forge a silenced weapon. They of course discuss the logistics in a public plaza, where all illegal assignations happen.
Jack's lone weakness is women. While in Italy, he begins a tryst with Clara (Violante Placido), a local prostitute. One would believe that his selection of this particular type of partner doesn't come without reason. Like all great assassins, constant paranoia is a trait that must be honed. Clara can offer what evidently Ingrid could not. Perhaps inevitably, a connection materializes; enough of one that leads Jack to question the effective life he lives.
Corbijn (Control) displays a remarkable handle over the film's tone and directs Clooney to a remarkably composed performance. This is a far stronger role than last year's performance in Up In the Air. Jack has range and sentiment over the Oscar nominated but ultimately Clooney-esque Ryan Bingham character. The American washes over us like a slow tide. There are periods when the scenery speaks volumes; it completely removes the need for discourse. The third act brings a loud crescendo, as Jack's past and future collide during a festival in the quaint European town.
Jack has a fascination for butterflies. Why or when this came about is unknown; we understand a connection through his comprehension of an endangered species and an unexplained tattoo near the top of his back. If you grab the wings of a butterfly, the membrane peels away and they're no longer able to fly. Any close contact will cripple the insect. Jack's life mirrors that of the art which adorns his skin. He flutters through life one job to the next. But women are his achilles heel. If he lets them in, his invincibility will melt away.