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  • Benjamin May

American Star (2024) Review

Wilson is an aging assassin recently arrived on Fuerteventura. After discovering that his hit has left the island, he decides to stay and relax, ostensibly until the target returns. Waiting and wandering, Wilson befriends Gloria, a bartender, and finds he has a connection with Max, a young boy staying at his resort. However, the arrival of Ryan, a figure from Wilson’s past, makes it clear that he has broken his cardinal rule: never get attached.

Directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego, ‘American Star’ is a reserved thriller telling a familiar tale- but telling it well. Nacho Faerna’s screenplay relies on silence, as much as dialogue, to further the narrative, and is an effective character study about a man past his prime, struggling to find something worthwhile left in a violent life. It is a subtle, quiet film, at times reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Melville’s ‘Le Samourai’ or- perhaps more so- Stephen Frears’ ‘The Hit’.

Like Frears’ film, the central character is a world weary assassin who begins to question himself while on his latest job. Similarly, both characters are reticent- in Frears’ case, John Hurt’s Braddock- though not without humour or emotion. The subplot involving Max is particularly heartfelt and well-handled, verging on the cloying at times, but not getting there. Building up to a memorable, surprising conclusion, the narrative packs a punch.

As does José David Montero’s cinematography. As cool and clean as the central character, Montero’s assured work complements the narrative, capturing the beauty and stark isolation of Fuerteventura. He makes excellent use of close-ups and tracking shots, compounding the suspense and tension of proceedings, while letting audiences peek into the minds of the characters; seemingly reading their thoughts through their expressions.

Moreover, Óscar Sempere’s minimalist production design is striking, making Wilson’s world feel cold and harsh. Leire Orella’s muted costume design contributes both to the characters and the mood of the piece, while the score- from Remate- adds a quiet power and pathos to proceedings. Additionally, the film is well-edited, and rockets along at a brisk pace, though never seems rushed; feeling to be the perfect length at an hour and 47 minutes

Ian McShane stars as Wilson, opposite Nora Arnezeder as Gloria, Oscar Coleman as Max and Adam Nagaitis as Ryan. McShane delivers a masterclass in understatement, and is utterly compelling, creating in Wilson someone to root for. With deft, he displays the character’s complexity and vulnerability, sharing an easy chemistry with Arnezeder. She makes Gloria- who is, to be fair, a little underwritten- interesting and sympathetic, while Coleman and Nagaitis are both excellent as the young Max and Ryan, respectively. In addition, Fanny Ardant does fine work in the all too small role of Gloria's mother, while the talents of Thomas Kretschmann are wasted entirely in a walk-on part shorter than the time it takes to write his name.

A worthwhile slow burn, Gonzalo López-Gallego’s ‘American Star’ is an entertaining, evocative story, boasting stunning, crisp cinematography, an engaging narrative and compelling characters. Headlined by the incomparable Ian McShane, the film is quiet and full of nuance, and therefore might not be to everyone’s tastes. However, for fans of McShane, Jean-Pierre Melville or Stephen Frears’ ‘The Hit,’ it is worth taking a shot at.


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