The Movie Waffler New Release Review - AMERICAN STAR | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - AMERICAN STAR

New Release Review - AMERICAN STAR
An aging hitman forges new friendships as he waits for his target to show up on an island.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Gonzalo López-Gallego

Starring: Ian McShane, Nora Arnezeder, Adam Nagaitis, Fanny Ardant, Thomas Kretschmann

American Star poster

The hitman thriller has been deconstructed so often that at this point there are more existential assassins on screen than those who simply get on with the job. The screen hitman is now more likely to spend his time pondering his life choices and philosophising about their unconventional career than in taking out assigned targets. A classic example of this is Anton Corbijn's 2010 film The American, in which George Clooney plays a hired killer who reflects on his existence while holed up in a small Italian town.

Director Gonzalo López-Gallego's American Star is something of a "nicecore" cousin of Corbijn's film. A surprisingly svelte Ian McShane plays Wilson (a nod, perhaps, to Terence Stamp in Soderbergh's The Limey?), an aging English hitman whose latest job sends him to the Spanish island of Fuerteventura, where he's tasked with taking out a wealthy German (Thomas Kretschmann). When the German's arrival is delayed by a few days, Wilson decides to stick around and explore the island.

American Star review

Just as Clooney ingratiated himself with the Italian locals in The American (and as Denzel Washington recently did in The Equalizer 3), Wilson grows comfortable in his new sunny surrounds. When he finds a dive bar that plays "music from his century," Wilson is drawn to photos of a shipwreck, the American Star, which lies off the island's south coast. A free-spirited young French woman, Gloria (Nora Arnezeder), takes Wilson under her wing and accompanies him to see the wreck. Taking a shine to Wilson, she even invites him to meet her mother (Fanny Ardant). Wilson also bonds with Max (Oscar Coleman), a Welsh moppet staying at his hotel.

For long stretches of American Star it's easy to forget it's a thriller. It has the laid back, avuncular appeal of recent Clint Eastwood movies. McShane, who might be the world's most handsome octogenarian, is charm personified. It's a delight to simply hang out with the aging star in a rare leading role and watch as he sweeps everyone he encounters off their feet. We expect our screen assassins to be sullen types but Wilson breaks the mould by happily engaging with anyone who makes his acquaintance. You may even find you have something in your eye during his wholesome grandfatherly interactions with Max, such as when he reconstitutes a plastic bag as a parachute for one of the kid's toy soldiers (It's just a stray eyelash, honestly.). Despite a near half century age gap, you can fully understand why Gloria finds this elderly stranger so appealing.

American Star review

There is however an undercurrent of looming dread running through the breezy narrative like poisoned lettering in a stick of holiday rock. That's provided by the unwelcome presence of Wilson's young nephew Ryan (Adam Nagaitis), a skeezy fellow criminal sent to keep an eye on Wilson by their ambiguous masters. Wilson doesn't want the kid around because like all movie hitmen, he likes to work alone. He also sees him as a threat to Gloria, who may be keeping secrets herself.

We also get the sense that Wilson is perturbed by his nephew's presence because it reminds him of the mistakes he made in his life and the roads he should have taken. It's unclear whether Wilson intends to reciprocate Gloria's interest, but he's certainly flattered, and what 80-year-old wouldn't be? The idea that the slimy but youthful Ryan might get his hands on Gloria disturbs both Wilson and the viewer, and it becomes increasingly clear that Wilson may be on a collision course with his own family member.

American Star review

The titular shipwreck serves as a not so subtle metaphor for Wilson's late station in life. When Gloria speaks about how ancient the vessel is, Wilson observes how it's not much older than himself. A once proud ship has found itself rusted and beached like a dead whale on the island's coast. And yet it seems to belong there. Similarly rusted and ransacked by time himself, Wilson also seems to belong in Fuerteventura, but we fear a past he seems to regret will catch up with him. Screen hitmen rarely get to retire in peace.

American Star is in UK cinemas and on VOD from February 23rd.

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