When you go to see films like "The Bourne Identity" you expect non-stop action. George Clooney has done his share of spy thrillers, including his Oscar-winning performance in the gritty "Syriana." In "The American," he takes everything down to a slow simmer that is long on riveting suspense but short on the usual rip-snorting action.
Clooney plays a professional hit man who also specializes in providing complex weapons to other assassins. It's apparent at the start of the movie that Clooney has now become a serious target himself. He must seek shelter while still taking care of the demands of his customers.
His attempt to hide from his pursuers while still working with hired killers provides tons of tension. But it's all done with a subtle touch and stunning visuals of the Italian countryside where he tries to lay low. Violante Placido plays a gorgeous prostitute who complicates his situation. But every character provides possible treachery and questionable loyalty in equal measure.
When the action comes, it appears like a thunderclap. It's a sudden exclamation point in the methodical unfolding story. It's not your modern style mainstream thriller. But Alfred Hitchcock's legacy is apparent in this well-crafted effort.
French film captures brazen gangster's ego
Seldom does a film give such an adrenaline rush as "Mesrine: Killer Instinct" and "Mesrine: Public Enemy No. 1." This two-part thriller from France about a real-life gangster paints a mesmerizing portrait of a charming monster who wreaked havoc in several countries in the '60s and '70s.
Vincent Cassel is electrifying as Jacques Mesrine, a man who could be totally smitten with his wife yet brutally tell her he will always choose his thug "friends" over her. Based upon his autobiography, Mesrine's outrageous crimes — and ego — made him a media darling and the ultimate bad boy to women.
The insanely daring action sequences — prison escapes in broad daylight, kidnappings, bank robberies, etc. — will have you gripping the edge of your seat, and are even more amazing when you consider they really happened.
Gérard Depardieu has his best role in years as a hulking "Godfather" figure and eventual partner. The music is reminiscent of vintage Hitchcock films and subtly ramps up the tension.
The saga skips around time-wise and there's little room for commentary. But if you can handle the bloodshed and subtitles, this is a new classic not to be missed.
JOHN DEPKO is a Costa Mesa resident and a senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office.