"The American" is a thriller that has you in its grip so much so that you'll jump when a hand proffering affection enters the left side of the screen during one of the movie's many splendid scenes.

That's because Netherlands director Anton Corbijn structured the movie at a deliberate, even leisurely, pace with many passages of near silence, so that when action occurs, it's all the more powerful, especially compared to noisy Hollywood action films, with their relentless Computer Generated Imagery bombast.

At the center of the quiet storm is an even quieter presence: George Clooney, who deserves an Oscar nomination for a brilliant, internalized performance.

It's an extension of his controlled turn in "Up in the Air" (2009) and has precedence in his role in "Michael Clayton" (2007). But here, Clooney is so pensive as to be glum.

The Clooney cool rivals that of Cary Grant and Sean Connery. Clooney's Jack is Bond-Bourne and "North By Northwest" all wrapped into one. Clooney's short-cropped hair is almost completely gray. His hard body displays a weary gait.

Director of photography Martin Ruhe ("The Countess," 2009) emphasizes telephoto lens shots to heighten the tension and frames his scenes as would a thoughtful still photographer. The observational cinema neatly symbolizes Jack's profession.

A soundtrack of ambient, classical and a few pop songs round out this beautiful production.

The screenplay by Rowan Joffe ("28 Weeks Later" scripter), based on Martin Booth's novel, "A Very Private Gentleman," is implausible at times. Where did Jack find a Home Depot in the Italian mountains to buy his drill press?

In the shocking opening scene, Clooney, as a hired assassin we know only as Jack, dispatches two attackers in the Swedish snow, plus a third person we won't identify because it would spoil the impact for you.

Jack has agreed to one last assignment in Italy from a mysterious man on a cell phone. Jack goes to a small, hillside town, Castel del Monte, a village of winding cobble-stone alleys clinging to a mountaintop in Abruzzo.

Jack delivers a high-powered, fast-action, sound-suppressed rifle to Mathilde (Dutch actress Thekla Reuten of "In Bruges"), a female assassin. The interplay between Clooney and Reuten is a sophisticated game of cat and mouse.

There's a parallel storyline involving Jack and Clara (Violante Placido), a woman of the night who becomes near and dear to him, as he does to her.

A third series of scenes are intercut with Jack befriending the town priest (Paolo Bonacelli), providing the story's moral spine.

"The American" proves to be an old-fashioned morality play disguised as a sensual thriller, one that will resonate with you long after you've left the movie theater.

"The American": MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for violence, sexual content and nudity; Genre: Drama, Thriller; Run time: 1 hr., 43 min.; Distributed by Focus Features

Credit Readers Anonymous: Henry Fonda in "Once Upon a Time in the West" (1968) is seen on a television in a cafe in "The American."

Box Office, Sept. 3: "The American" was No. 1, with $16.7 million for the weekend and $19.8 million since Sept. 1. "Machete" opened at No. 2 with $14.1 million.

3. "Takers," $13.5 million, $40 million, two weeks; 4. "The Last Exorcism," $8.7 million, $33.5 million, two weeks; 5. "Going the Distance," $8.5 million, opening; 6. "The Expendables," $8.3 million, $93.9 million, four weeks; 7. "The Other Guys," $6.6 million, $108 million, five weeks; 8. "Eat Pray Love," $6.1 million, $70.3 million, four weeks; 9. "Inception," $5.8 million, $278 million, eight weeks; 10. "Nanny McPhee Returns," $4.8 million, $23.7 million, three weeks.

Unreel, Sept.10:

"Resident Evil: Afterlife," Rated R: Husband and wife, Milla Jovovich and director Paul W.S. Anderson are back, in the fourth installment, this time with 3-D, using James Cameron's Fusion camera. The T-Virus is still spreading and Alice (Jovovich) and a few survivors are stayin' alive in Los Angeles.

"The Virginity Hit," Rated R: Four friends use a video camera and the internet to chronicle their buddy's efforts in the comedy produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay.