“American Star” – At sea [MOVIE REVIEW]

Ian McShane. Photo by José David Montero, courtesy of IFC Films.

Inspired to create a film noir that would harken back to the days of the silent anti-hero, director Gonzalo López-Gallego and writer Nacho Faerna have constructed all the necessary elements. Inscrutable hitman? Check. Femme fatale? Check. Isolated location? Check. The pieces are all there but, in the end, don’t entirely work. It isn’t just the hitman who is inscrutable.


In what should be his farewell performance, experienced hitman, Wilson, has been sent from London to Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. A beach paradise with an unforgiving coast of cliffs, coves and desert, Wilson has come to kill a man he doesn’t know for reasons not given to him. Breaking into the target’s luxurious villa, he discovers that the man is absent. Faced with two choices: return home or stay, uncharacteristically Wilson opts to stay. The weather is fine, the drinks are plentiful, and the atmosphere is surprisingly comfortable and populated, as are most Spanish coastal resorts, by Brits.

Although a loner with little inclination to socialize, he still attracts attention in his black suit and dress shoes in direct opposition to the shorts and brightly colored beach shirts of the tourists. Sitting at the bar, he meets Gloria, a beautiful woman half his age. She takes him in hand to show him the island, especially her favorite hidden beach, well off the beaten track. It is there that she shows him the wreck of the American Star, a boat that foundered years before and left to rot. As they stare at it from shore, it suddenly shifts and sinks farther. Perhaps this ship and its rusting, unstable hulk is a metaphor for what he’s become. It is a view that remains in his mind as he returns to his hotel to contemplate his next move. 

Ian McShane and Adam Nagaitis. Photo by José David Montero, courtesy of IFC Films.

But just as much as Wilson is watching the landscape, he, too, is being watched. Thomas has been sent from London when Wilson did not return. Wilson, possibly Thomas’s mentor, recognizes what Thomas’s appearance represents. This is a passing of the baton which may or may not be smooth and effortless. Each has a style unto himself and each is surprisingly contradictory. That they will clash is a given; the end result is not.

Ian McShane and Fanny Ardant. Photo by José David Montero, courtesy of IFC Films.

Ian McShane was the perfect choice for Wilson. In some ways he channels Alain Delon’s hitman in “Le Samourai.” Wilson speaks little and goes about his job methodically. If Lopez-Gallego had streamlined his film, something that would have resulted in more tension and mystery, he would have been able to better hold the audience’s attention, or, at the very least, mine. In Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samourai” you see the character’s ritualistic preparations, not ready for the mistake (and it’s only one as well as his first) that will undo a lifetime of success. With “American Star,” it just takes too long for that climax. More’s the pity because McShane was perfectly cast. Thomas Kretschmann as Thomas, the younger version of Wilson is good but writer Faerna has not developed his character effectively for all of his actions to be believable. Nora Arnezeder is Gloria, but we never completely understand her attraction to Wilson. Oscar Coleman plays Oscar, a child who befriends Wilson. It’s just too obvious that his presence has been used to show a human side to Wilson. There is a small scene between McShane and French actress Fanny Ardant who plays Gloria’s mother. Ironically, as she asks that he not break her daughter’s heart, it is with her that he has the most chemistry. You can definitely see him staying for the mother but not the daughter. It’s a rather superfluous scene but an interesting one in a film surprisingly lacking in them.

Cinematographer José David Montero has captured the sweaty beauty of a middle class beach resort with blue seas and unforgiving sun. 

Opening January 26 at the Laemmle Royal.


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