These two deserve to be treated as a pair. Both are (perhaps unnecessary) retreads of the lone operative genre, Statham's new vehicle specifically a remake of a Michael Winner movie from 1972 starring Charles Bronson, while Clooney's feels like a remake of Le Samourai, but apparently Anton Corbijn vehemently denies ever seeing it. Both men have to kill someone they care about, both are 'good with machinery'.
In a sense The American is an oddly-named movie, because where it differs most starkly from The Mechanic is in its European arthouse heritage.
Clooney plays Jack/Edward, a warrior-gunmaker in service to a grizzled, but otherwise low-key Rome-based master called Pavel. Forced to flee the frozen north when — we can surmise — his cover is broken, Clooney comes to Italy in search of new instructions.
Strangely reluctant to use mobile phones, he will only contact Pavel from phone-booths once in the same country as his master. Pavel tells Jack/Edward not to make contact with anyone, but soon he is breaking up his solitude by sharing mealtimes with the local priest and trysts with a hooker called Clara.
Crucially Pavel also told Jack to make himself scarce in the town of Castelvecchio, but on arriving there the locals seem to give him the heebie geebies, so he drives over to the (presumably) nearby town of Castel del Monte, also situated atop a substantial hill.
Clooney delivers a measured performance, sometimes a little too placid, but most often highly suggestive of the character's inner control in his workshop which, outside of it at least, is being steadily eroded by a need for human contact and some justifiable anxiety about the various shadows tailing him. Just the thought of what would have happened if Corbijn had instead cast Jason Statham in this role was enough to convince me of the centrality of Clooney to this movie's power to engage.
The mayhem here is on a much smaller scale than in The Mechanic, but pushes credibility even further. How can such a small town support such a large bordello, and a body count of more than one? Where are all the old ladies wandering around the streets at night, or at least twitching their curtains? That said, the car chase at the end of The Mechanic is one of the most pointless ever put on celluloid.
If Clooney probably downsized his pay-cheque to go European, Statham was in turn was no doubt pleased to have finally upgraded himself from the European B-movie scene into a more substantially-funded Hollywood flick. The problem here is that, even though many of us find Statham bizarrely charismatic on screen, the producers here have not trusted him to carry a more expensive movie on his own, and have thus saddled him with Ben Foster as a particularly unloveable sidekick for the duration of The Mechanic. (viz Jacky Chan's earliest crossover films.)
When the lone operative is betrayed by his bosses, he can either track them down one by one and kill them all, as Statham does — leaving room for the sequel he has traditionally squeezed out of his roles — or he can follow the standard Japanese model and die in the process, or, as I seem to recall in Boiling Point (or was it Sonatine?) blow his own brains out having run out of betrayers to kill. It wasn't hard to guess which way Jack/Edward's path lay.
By the way, I think all forms of religious/folkloric/St Patrick's Day processions should be banned from the last act of thriller plots.
The Mechanic, Grade: B
The American, Grade: B(+)