Based on the novel A Very Private Gentleman by Martin Booth, director Anton Corbijn's follow-up to the award-winning Ian Curtis biopic Control is a meticulously crafted portrait of a man of violence trying to escape his grim fate. Predictably, the anti-hero can only outrun the past for so long before it catches up with him and demands bloodthirsty redemption.
George Clooney is on screen for almost every single frame in the title role, his face etched with weariness as an assassin who has grown tired of always looking over his shoulder.
Without the star power of its leading man, The American would struggle to find an audience outside of the arthouse circuit. It's an unremittingly bleak and slow-burning study of solitude, epitomised by a remarkable and protracted sequence in which the titular character drives towards the white light at the end of a long tunnel.
Corbijn refuses to cut away from inside the car as the white light expands, illuminating the driver until the entire screen is filled with blinding white.
Following a bungled assassination attempt in Sweden, hit man Jack (George Clooney) decides to abandon the killing game once and for all.
He telephones handler Pavel (Johan Leysen), who suggests that Jack should lay low in the Italian town of Castelvecchio.
"Don't talk to anyone and above all, don't make any friends. You used to know that," scolds Pavel.
The hit man drives to the remote community and on the spur of the moment, he disobeys orders and sets up camp in nearby Castel Del Monte.
By day, Jack keeps himself busy by constructing a custom-made weapon for mysterious client, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten).
By night, he enjoys the carnal delights of local prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido).
As Jack's paranoia takes hold, he seeks counsel from local holy man, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli).
"A man can be rich if he has God in his heart," contends the priest.
"I don't think God is interested in me, Father," mocks Jack, fearing he is well past the point of no return. Jack enlists the help of beautiful Ingrid and their relationship blossoms.
The American is an engrossing character study, enlivened by explosions of violence including a night-time car chase that is as close as the film strays to an action set piece.
Corbijn makes excellent use of the stunning European locations and keeps himself and us amused with interesting shots.
Thus, the throwaway image of a train arriving at a platform in Rome is captured as a reflection in one of the station display boards.
In the absence of bright colours in the film's palette, Clooney sparks a dazzling screen chemistry, in very different ways, with Placido and Bonacelli, the latter wearing his dog collar with conviction.
"You are American. You think you can escape history," laments Father Benedetto.
As Jack discovers, there is no escape.