Abstraction is where genres go to die. In the post-"Bourne" era, the idea of a lone operative working in the shadows, holing up in rustic European towns while dodging impeccably cutthroat, improbably glamorous enemies, seems almost quaint, even kitschy -- the cloak-and-dagger equivalent of a Hummel figurine. A hired killer, living by his own eccentric but determined code of ethics? How utterly darling.
Anton Corbijn's "The American," adapted by Rowan Joffe from Martin Booth's novel "A Very Private Gentlemen," works at the edges of the espionage genre, where reflexivity shades into self-parody. It's built from stock, salvaged from bits of countless other films, but rather than disguise that fact, Corbijn incorporates the rust of those worn-out parts into his design. We've been here before, and so have the characters, and everyone's grown tired of the game.
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