We're supposed to watch the unsmiling, silver-haired George Clooney---particularly his hands---as he assembles a mean-looking silencer and nod at the movie's understatement: Ah, yes, the empty, methodical life of the hired assassin. The American, gorgeously shot in rural Italy, takes itself very seriously, even though the story is filled with the same Bond-acious vixens and prostitutes with hearts of gold as any clichd spy film. Yet the film's mood is so somber and minimal, it might be confused for deep. Had the plot (meager and one-last-job-predictable) zipped along, that wouldn't feel like such a problem.
But director Anton Corbijn is not a zipper-alonger. He lingers over quiet interiors: bars where simple cups of espresso are sipped by inscrutable men in blazers. At one point, a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western is playing on a widescreen TV, just to italicize the existential showdown we're in for. Corbijn, once an important video director, was responsible for the equally portentous Control (2007), a visually stunning evocation of the somewhat uneventful life of Joy Division's Ian Curtis. Clooney's character, sometimes called Jack or Edward, has tons more to do than Curtis ever did, but he's equally a figment of romanticized nothingness. When summer films start flattering themselves, it's time for a change of season.---Joshua Rothkopf