Today: April 19, 2024

American Star

There’s two variations of the hitman subgenre, and both have been feeling pretty stale for a while. Whether it’s the guns-blazing all-out-action of a film like John Wick or the more meditative qualities of something like 2010’s The American starring George Clooney, it feels like the final word on the hitman flick was already uttered many moons ago. Even David Fincher’s latest The Killer failed to make much of an impact. But ever so quietly from the shadows creeps American Star.

This intimate, low-key thriller sees Ian McShane reteam with filmmaker Gonzalo López-Gallego following 2016’s underrated neo-Western The Hollow Point for an understated character study that puts layered characters ahead of explosive action.

McShane is Wilson, a calculated ageing assassin on a job in Fuerteventura. When bad intel reveals his target is not yet on the island, Wilson ignores advice to leave and decides to check in to a nearby hotel and wait. What follows is a slow, precise study of a man reassessing his life choices and his place in a business he no longer understands. Wilson becomes acquainted with the people of the island – including a local young bartender Gloria (Nora Arnezeder) who may be involved with his target, and a young boy on holiday in the same hotel neglected by his warring parents. These two relationships in particular shine a light on the human connections that Wilson’s life choices have taken him away from, and a masterful performance from McShane portrays all of this inner turmoil and disappointment at times largely without dialogue.

It is a magnificent vehicle for McShane to flex his undeniably colossal acting chops – his work here is so quietly commanding that it’s impossible to take your eyes off him. The enigmatic Wilson is a fascinating protagonist and one that McShane makes entirely his own, and his fully-realized performance carries the film. This is his best work since Deadwood – albeit a performance that could not be more different from the volatile Al Swearengen! 

That said, the direction from López-Gallego is just as integral to the success of American Star. His work behind the camera is just as understated as the performance at the heart of the film; this is incredibly slick filmmaking that accurately reflects the cool calculation of the film’s protagonist. And the setting of Fuerteventura itself becomes a compelling character in the film, thanks to the magnificent cinematography from José David Montero.

The titular American Star is a disintegrating cruise ship beached upon the banks of Fuerteventura, and becomes a poetic point of obsession for Wilson throughout the film. Just like this ship, the hitman subgenre has itself been beached and disintegrating for some time. This intelligent, understated and thought-provoking character study allows the genre to soar once again. 

American Star is in UK Cinemas and on Digital Platforms on 23rd February

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