American Star (2024, dir. Gonzalo López-Gallego)

by | Feb 27, 2024

Certificate: 15

Running Time: 107 mins

UK Distributor: Vertigo Releasing

UK Release Date: 23 February 2024

WHO’S IN AMERICAN STAR?

Ian McShane, Nora Arnezeder, Adam Nagaitis, Andrés Gertrúdix, Oscar Coleman, Sabela Arán, Thomas Kretschmann, Fanny Ardant

WHO’S BEHIND THE CAMERA?

Gonzalo López-Gallego (director, editor), Nacho Faerna (writer), Michael Elliott and Ian McShane (producers), Remate (composer), José David Montero (cinematographer)

WHAT’S IT ABOUT?

An aging hitman (McShane) travels to Fuerteventura for a final mission…

WHAT ARE MY THOUGHTS ON AMERICAN STAR?

You ever seen a movie that was just kind of… there? Not bad, but not great either; it merely exists, and that’s it. American Star, from director Gonzalo López-Gallego, is one of those films.

There’s nothing outwardly wrong with it – the filmmaking is competent, the writing is fine, the acting is solid, and so on – but at the same time, there isn’t anything about it that stands out, as it does very little to draw attention to itself among the gallery of many, far more outstanding movies of its calibre. Honestly, I don’t even know how much I have to say about it in this review (though I’ll certainly try), because it really is one of those films that is simply… there, and not that much else.

The film follows Wilson (Ian McShane), an aging assassin who arrives in Fuerteventura (among the Canary Islands) for his latest assignment. However, when his target doesn’t show, Wilson finds himself checking into a nearby resort hotel to pass the time, and has himself a mini-holiday where he wanders to local bars, befriends a curious young boy named Max (Oscar Coleman), and becomes close with local bartender Gloria (Nora Arnezeder). It is she whom he makes a field trip with at one point to the nearby remains of the SS American Star, a cruise liner that famously washed up on the island’s shores after a shipwreck, and naturally serves as a visual metaphor for Wilson’s violent life of regret and misery. Eventually, though, said life soon disrupts Wilson’s vacation in the form of his nephew and fellow assassin Ryan (Adam Nagaitis), who attempts to put his mind back to where it professionally should be.

On a technical aspect, it’s hard to find much fault in American Star. The cinematography, provided by José David Montero, does well to capture the pleasantly barren landscapes of Fuerteventura, where sandy dunes and naff tourist hotspots easily dominate, with a keen lens that frequently calls to attention its remote tranquillity. Director López-Gallego (also the editor of the film) brings a gentle calmness to scenes where Ian McShane’s Wilson quietly observes the nightlife unfolding around him, clearly opting for a slower-burn film noir vibe rather than an all-out action-thriller that movies about assassins forced into downtime often tend to be. Finally, there’s McShane himself, as the ever-cool character actor easily brings his calm charisma and natural screen presence to a part that is much more reserved than most of the actor’s other showier roles, but he still leaves a decent enough impression on the viewer with a neatly understated performance.

However, as strong as those components are, they never really turn American Star into something that must be sought after. The script, by Nacho Faerna, simply doesn’t provide a wholly intriguing concept, outside of one that has been used in so many other films – wherein a trained killer gets a healthy dose of life experience during his latest mission – and here is not shaken up enough for it to feel fresh or unique from anything else. I’ll give the script some credit for not using some of the more typical conventions of the standard assassin thriller, such as the dangerous cross-section between his violent life and the innocent young kid he’s formed a strong bond with, but honestly it could have used some of them, for the film often struggles to hold your attention with its somewhat monotonous pacing, only picking up about ten minutes before the ending credits.

I wouldn’t say that the film is a complete bore, because again it’s competently made and of course Ian McShane is hugely watchable, but its largely uninteresting narrative and overly slow pacing does make it quite unremarkable, regardless of the talent and passion that may have gone into it. There is very little else about it that suggests it’ll stay in your memory long afterwards, and already I can feel it slipping away from my mind, mere hours after actually watching it.

It is just a film that isn’t entirely bad, nor is it entirely good, which in a sense condemns it to an even worse fate than if it were simply bad, since it’s highly unlikely that it will be remembered by anyone, even those who end up liking it. After all, isn’t it better to have something like, say, Madame Web that’s bad but memorable, instead of a film like American Star that’s adequate but extremely forgettable? At least then, you’ll be able to better articulate what’s wrong with it, rather than struggle to remember much else about it.

SO, TO SUM UP…

American Star is a largely forgettable assassin thriller that benefits from competent filmmaking and a watchable lead turn by Ian McShane, but lacks an intriguing premise outside of the familiar formula and moves at such a monotonous pace that it leaves you struggling to pay full attention.

Two out of five stars

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