NOW IN THEATERS! The assassin with a heart of gold. Talk about the oldest cliché in the book. Yet by stripping down their narrative to bare essentials, director Gonzalo López-Gallego and writer Nacho Faerna find a novel and surprisingly poignant way to approach that staple in the unforgettable dramatic thriller American Star. Its images, sounds, characters, uncanny setting, and sumptuous melancholy will haunt viewers for days.
The title refers to an old, decrepit ship stranded at a Fuerteventura beach: a gargantuan pile of scrap metal, once glorious, now on the verge of collapse. And that’s exactly what happens to it when the protagonist, reticent assassin Wilson (Ian McShane), visits the abandoned vessel with the vivacious, striking bartender Gloria (Nora Arnezeder): it tilts to the side, perishing into the water as if having waited for a witness to die finally.
This marks just one of the frequent, subliminally profound moments throughout American Star. Wilson wanders around the island, his lone wolf demeanor and dark suits making him stand out like a dark splotch. He bonds with a young boy at his beachside hotel. He meets Gloria’s mother (the legendary Fanny Ardant) and drives with her daughter under the star-filled sky with no headlights.
As the narrative glides along leisurely, tension starts to mount, things reveal themselves, and a heavy feeling settles in: disaster awaits. López-Gallego is acutely aware of the “less is more” truism: when the violence does arrive, for all its brevity, it is infinitely more shocking and resonant than anything in, say, the entire John Wick trilogy.
“…reticent assassin Wilson visits the abandoned vessel with the vivacious, striking bartender Gloria…”
The location plays a massive role in the near-silent feature. José David Montero’s cinematography captures the stark contrast of azure waters and wind-swept dunes; there’s a distinct “parallel dimension” vibe that entraps our heroes as if they’re all guided by invisible hands toward their inevitable destinations. It’s all done so nonchalantly as if the artists had the entire portrait in their heads and someone just had to give them the right brushes and colors to paint it.
Sure, the deliberate pacing may turn off a few jaded viewers – a sentence I hate to write but have had the misfortune of writing quite a few times when reviewing films in our ADD-addled times. Take a moment and allow American Star to sink in, its mood to penetrate, and its central hero to convey. And what a performance by the always-reliable Ian McShane! One could literally watch him sip coffee all day, and here he reveals so much with a mere twitch of an eyebrow that it puts most other actors to shame.
Think David Fincher’s recent The Killer without the laborious self-reflection. The trouble is, Fincher’s high-profile flick stole the show. López-Gallego’s American Star is one of those late-year, under-the-radar near-masterpieces that, for some reason, is bound to be overlooked – but really shouldn’t be. It’s artistic without being pretentious, thoughtful and elegiac without treading into monotony, beautifully acted without drawing too much attention to its stars. In a lackluster cinematic year, it’s one of the very best films, right up there with all the maestros, flower moons, and that pink atrocity I can’t even mention. Seek it out ASAP.
"…one of the very best films, right up there with all the maestros, flower moons, and that pink atrocity I can’t even mention..."