It rarely happens, but there's a dark thrill to be had in watching George Clooney playing a real bad guy. Fourteen years ago he gave one of his best performances as gun-toting robber Seth Gecko in from 'Dusk Till Dawn'. Now he's decided to play another cold-blooded loner who'll shoot anyone who gets in his way in 'The American', a movie with a shocking opening sequence that promises twists, turns and overtime for the coroner.

Forced to flee his Swedish bolthole when two of the competition come calling, hitman Jack (Clooney) makes it to Rome where his contact Pavel (Leysen) gives him a car and a phone and tells him to lie low in a small town. Posing as a magazine photographer in Castel del Monte, Jack's attempts to keep himself to himself prove shortlived when he attracts the interest of the local priest, Father Benedetto (Bonacelli), and falls for Clara (Placido), one of the girls at a nearby brothel. Each offers Jack the chance of redemption, but is he too far gone?

For fans of movies like Jean-Pierre Melville's 'Le Samourai' or Walter Hill's 'The Driver', 'The American' will have its moments - terse dialogue, trust in very short supply and the possibility of a hitman around every corner. But while Corbijn's film features plenty of classic genre conventions, it doesn't deserve to be ranked with the greats. It's quite slow, with a couple of corny parts, heavily laboured symbolism and a relationship that becomes too serious, too quickly. It says much for Clooney's screen charisma that he makes 'The American' worth watching even after the twist is figured out - early - and the scene where he sits in a café watching Henry Fonda, another movie nice guy, playing the baddie in 'Once Upon a Time in the West' is great.

Hopefully it has given him some ideas for the future.

Harry Guerin