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Film review: Clooney flexes action-star muscle in ‘American’

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THE AMERICAN — ★★★ — George Clooney; with English subtitles (Italian dialects); rated R (violence, sex, nudity, gore, profanity); in general release

The last couple of really serious efforts to turn George Clooney into an action star came in 1997 with the duds "The Peacemaker" and "Batman & Robin."

Obviously, he's come a long way as an actor since then. And "The American" offers the more mature and assured Clooney a more nuanced, convincing action role.

Of course, the thriller at least tries to develop this character and tell its story in a more cerebral way than those earlier efforts did. (It is, after all, based on Martin Booth's well-regarded novel "A Very Private Gentleman," which had its share of thoughtful moments.)

There are some audiences who may mistake the R-rated film's slow-burn approach for being slow-paced, though. Clooney stars as the title character, an experienced assassin who's known as either Jack or Edward — or even Mr. Butterfly — depending on whom you talk to.

He's been trying to lie low in Italy since his previous assignment and subsequent "vacation" resulted in the deaths of two would-be killers, as well as his at-the-time girlfriend.

And on the advice of his employers, he's trying to keep to himself, though he's befriended a local priest, Father Benedetto (Paolo Bonacelli), and his relationship with a prostitute, Clara (Violante Placido), is threatening to turn into something more.

He's not keeping idle, either. He's agreed to make a weapon for a fellow assassin, Mathilde (Thekla Reuten), and he seems convinced that he's being followed and targeted.

Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn has directed music videos for Depeche Mode, U2 and others, and this thriller is definitely visually pleasing. (The beautiful Italian scenery is almost worth the price of admission by itself.)

Corbijn also favors natural sound effects, and the minimal use of dialogue and music make the film feel more uncomfortable and effective.

There are a few plot holes and other inconsistencies, unfortunately. Corbijn and screenwriter Rowan Joffe can't help but throw in some frank sexual material, either.

"The American" is rated R and features strong violent content and imagery (gunplay and shootings, strangulation, automotive mayhem, and violence against women), simulated sex and other sexual contact, full female and partial male nudity, gory and bloody imagery, and scattered strong sexual language (profanity). Running time: 105 minutes.

e-mail: jeff@desnews.com