Soon, this shadowy weapons-maker, operating in a world of murder and hitmen which, we assume, could erupt into violence any minute, is hiding out in the hills of Abruzzo, east of Rome, and trying to remain incognito. He strikes up a rapport with a prostitute (Violante Placido) and shares a drink with a priest (Paolo Bonacelli), but mostly he wanders, drinks coffee and remains silent while discreetly preparing a gun for a smart woman (Thekla Reuten) about whom we know even less.
Meanwhile, our man maintains infrequent contact with a handler (Johan Leysen) who was surely cast for the noble trenches of worry running across his face.
‘The American’ is a better film when little is happening – which is much of the time – because when fragments of story do disturb the piece, they tend to stress the film’s more clichéd elements: the kindly prostitute; the hard man with a soft side; the priest who elicits confessions.
At its best, the film’s silence and unrevealing mood of observation remind you of ‘The Passenger’ or Paulo Sorrentino’s ‘Consequences of Love’, although Corbijn also nods awkwardly to Sergio Leone and the western genre. At its worst, ‘The American’ feels like the filmic equivalent of a classy coffee-table book or an ad for Italian coffee itself.