Combustible Celluloid Review - American Star (2024), Nacho Faerna, Gonzalo López-Gallego, Ian McShane, Nora Arnezeder, Oscar Coleman, Adam Nagaitis, Fanny Ardant
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With: Ian McShane, Nora Arnezeder, Oscar Coleman, Adam Nagaitis, Fanny Ardant
Written by: Nacho Faerna
Directed by: Gonzalo López-Gallego
MPAA Rating: R for language and some bloody violence
Running Time: 106
Date: 01/26/2024

American Star (2024)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Hitman Hiatus

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A slow-burn hitman story that seems either purposely opaque or confusingly written, Gonzalo López-Gallego's American Star still manages to captivate thanks to its commanding lead performance and gorgeous landscapes.

Hitman Wilson (Ian McShane) arrives on the picaresque island of Fuerteventura for a job. His target does not show up when expected, and instead a woman, Gloria (Nora Arnezeder), appears in the target's house. Wilson slips away and decides to stay until he can finish his assignment.

He meets a young boy, Max (Oscar Coleman), at his hotel, and discovers that Gloria is a bartender at a blues joint. He becomes interested in a shipwreck on the other side of the island, a boat called the American Star. A man who appears to be Wilson's nephew, Ryan (Adam Nagaitis), turns up on the island, seemingly to keep an eye on him. Wilson ends up spending more and more time with Gloria, even meeting Gloria's mother (Fanny Ardant). Will Wilson be able to go through with the job, or has he become too involved?

There's no shortage of "the-lonely-life-of-hitmen" movies, and American Star isn't much different, but it has a few good things going for it. The great McShane, with his weathered face and grizzled voice, looking trim in a black suit, gives his hitman character weight; he's a man of few words, but hasn't lost his humanity. He's capable of kindness and curiosity, as well as cold-bloodedness.

Director López-Gallego places this singular figure in a unique landscape, a wind-swept island paradise with dirt roads, luxurious hotels, and a rusting shipwreck. It's nothing if not poetic. It's possible that, like the similar movies The American and The Killer, American Star might be paying tribute to French crime thrillers of the sixties (like the masterful Le Samouraï), which could explain the vagueness of its plot; character and mood are more important in those kinds of movies. Yet, even though it's difficult to pinpoint the nature of the story's flaws, the rest is enough to overcome them.

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