This is an almost muted performance from Clooney that was sparsely written and incredibly demanding. Clooney, however, brings maybe his top acting performance to date as "The American" exemplifies a gradually maturing body of work. Clooney is asked to convey paranoia, fear, desire, solitude, love, affection, passion and longing through, mostly, just his eyes and facial expressions. Director, Anton Corbijn, handles this slow, brooding paced film with a confidence and maturity of a veteran director. He doesn't force dialogue in places it's not needed in fear of losing audiences. When Jack does speak, he speaks clearly, efficiently and doesn't mix words. There's a great deal of power and truth behind the few words he does utter, which make them all the more impacting.
"The American" will be a very hard watch for most people. There are no grand action sequences, there is little dialogue and there is very little character development, especially from side characters. The film is directed like a film from the early 70s. Corbijn gives his characters room to breath without giving much detail on who they are, gives the plot room to unfold naturally and effortlessly, which in turn creates for an edge-of-your sit thriller. His direction is subtle, but extremely effective. There is a pay off to "The American." There is an empathic character in Jack that we do wish to change and gain some sort of redemption, which he begins to seek as a desperate alternative for living. Corbijn does a phenomenal job of showing how Jack's past haunts his present day and how Jack goes from no longer allowing himself just to forget the past, but to come clean and change. By the end of the film Jack is no longer living just to stay alive, but he's living to escape his profession, which he is very good at, and to find love or some semblance of peace and happiness.
Most of the film we see Jack on the brink of maintaining sanity and fighting his paranoia's at every waking second. Each and every person he runs into, he sees as his potential murderer. The tension that this creates and the unpredictability of all the surrounding characters, who are even more vague and unknowable than Jack, made for a very thrilling and suspenseful film. We don't know these people, what they're capable of or what they're thinking. And neither does Jack. We find ourselves in his paranoid state.
The film ends abruptly, although not unexpectedly, and without any mercy for Jack. Just as we started with guns blazing, bodies falling, people dying quickly and without mercy, we leave this world the same way we came in. It's a hard and difficult world to live in and one that can wear on the conscience of the most callous of men. "The American" is one of the very best films of 2010 and George Clooney gives an intuitive performance reminiscent of Gene Hackman in "The Conversation."