George Clooney stars in Anton Corbijn’s The American as hired assassin Jack, a man on the verge of retirement and in the midst of a unique type of mid-life crisis. Following an opening sequence in which Jack is attacked he hides  in a remote Italian village informing his handler/boss/agent Pavel (Johan Leysen) that he wants to give up the assassin business for good. Offering Jack one last job where he doesn’t even have to kill, Pavel tasks him with building a custom rifle for another assassin, Mathilda (Thekla Reuten). Whilst building this rifle, something he does with great care and attention, he befriends a local priest (Paolo Bonacelli), begins a romantic affair with a local prostitute Clara (Violante Placido) and attempts to avoid various assassination attempts.

What could have easily been a throwaway action filled thriller is, in the hands of director Anton Corbijn, a calm and meditative piece but one filled with angst and anxiety. Jack is a sad and lonely figure unable to even sleep without constantly waking, fearing attack. He is always on edge, always cautious and suspicious of everyone and every situation. The title The American (the book on which it was based is titled A Very Private Gentleman) seems to be an incredibly definite statement and it is interesting that the central character is locked in this state of anxiety and unease, constantly fearing outsiders and unable to make meaningful relationships. The American is perhaps deliberately allegorical of the modern American climate, ‘The American’ (Jack)  is burdened with a violent past and constantly in fear of foreign attackers, seeing threats even in his closest allies.

This state of anxiety is not an enviable one and Rowan Joffe’s screenplay and Corbijn’s direction effectively convey this. Unfortunately this is one area though where the casting of George Clooney is perhaps in error as Clooney never seems quite tragic enough and still appears at times to be having too much of a good time sipping coffee and reading the paper in this picturesque town.

The scenery in general is incredible and Corbijn’s background as a photographer aids in capturing the beauty of the Italian village and the surrounding area. The sumptuous surroundings and the beautiful way they are shot makes it seem even more tantalising a situation for Jack to be in but he is unable to completely enjoy his surroundings and company, even bringing a loaded gun to a picnic in one particularly tense sequence.

Despite the economical and effective direction and writing the American is not a wholly satisfying experience, filled with cliches that for the most part often remain just cliches and a lot of irritatingly convenient plotting, the police seem notably absent for instance. The film is lacking in important areas and never quite reaches the heights that the filmmakers are clearly aiming for. There is intelligence at the core of The American though and even if the film tends to wash over you and at times leave you wanting it is a film with enough depth to mull over after viewing.

The American is released in UK cinemas today.