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George Clooney handles this sleek but shallow Euro-actioner

The American

Directed by Anton Corbijn

Focus Features

George Clooney is a great pauser.

Throughout his prime as a drama/action/comedy star, he’s gotten good mileage out of the quiet pause—sometimes with a dropped head and a sly charmer smile, but often just staring off into middle space for a few beats or more, letting the audience’s eyes wander over those chiseled features and hound-dog soulful eyes and fill in the blank with whatever they want.

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On the surface, at least, that makes him great casting for Anton Corbijn’s

The American

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, a Euro-actioner adaptation of Martin Booth’s novel

A Very Private Gentleman

. Clooney’s character—Jack, Edward, Mr. Butterfly, take your pick—is the proverbial aging hitman. After Euro baddies ambush him during a romantic retreat in frosty Sweden, he lies low in a picturesque Italian hill town while his sinister handler Pavel (Johan Leysen) handles things. In the meantime, he manufactures a custom sniper-rifle for a mercurial female client (Thekla Reuten) and beds down with a fetching local prostitute (Violante Placido). Clooney takes a particularly hard line with his shut-down character, barely speaking, barely reacting, barely there but for a slightly pained glower. Corbijn provides a jeweler’s setting for the performance with austere camerawork and deafening quiet, the ultra-minimal score and repeated glimpses of what must be endless silent hours underlining the character’s core isolation.

Despite the overall European unshowiness of the movie,

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The American

ultimately follows some very Hollywood verities. The only character more clichéd than the Hitman Out for One Last Job is the Hooker With a Heart of Gold, and when the two collide as events near their climax, Clooney’s stoic front breaks and

The American

’s carefully tended slow burn bubbles over into potboiler territory. But Clooney is as magnetic as ever and to be commended for attempting what constitutes a stretch, oddly enough. The final sequence here perhaps unconsciously echoes the final shot of

Michael Clayton

, with the star’s character in a car, motoring toward an uncertain fate. Only here he isn’t pausing.

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