‘American Star’ is a great example of how a beautifully shot movie, with grounded acting and superb cinematography, can also suffer from minimalist substance and pacing issues. Following aged hitman Wilson (Ian McShane), as he awaits his next victim to return home in sunny Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, the 1-hour 47minute film is less ‘hitman’ and more ‘When’s the movie going to start, man’.
There are only a select few movies that both test an audience’s patience and attention span, whilst also showcasing some of the most astonishing shots of terrain there are to be seen on screen. ‘American Star’ manages to proportionately draw you in with dramatic, slow panning shots of Spain’s dusty mountain landscape one minute whilst pushing you away with its likely intentional, but equally frustrating, expansive moments of silence.
Director Gonzalo López-Gallego takes the term ‘Pinter Pause’ to the extreme, with the character Wilson not even speaking a word throughout the initial 10 minutes of the movie, as well as there being frequent moments of awkward silence between pivotal characters. These silences are certainly there to give audiences adequate time to reflect on the meaningfulness of what few conversations do take place but don’t help with the difficult pacing.
That’s not to say that every film has to cram dialogue into every minute of its runtime for it to be engaging. ‘American Star’ discernibly falls into an art house category of nuanced movies that you would normally find at a film festival rather than one you would watch with your friends on a Friday night. Due to its more engaging aspects being the vibrant location and filming style.
The minimalist cast is led by veteran actor Ian McShane, known for performances in John Wick and American Gods, and the 81-year-old gives an unsurprisingly grounded performance of a most unlikely hitman on holiday. The handful of supporting actors give equally fair performances, with Gloria (Nora Arnezeder) being the residential bartender and Wilsons’ private tour guide of the island. Others include Max (Oscar Coleman), the young influential child whom Wilson takes a fondness for, and Ryan (Adam Nagaitis) the reminder of what outstanding work Wilson has to do in the first place.
Riddled with foreshadowing and symbolism, the movie doesn’t allow the audience time to figure things out for themselves but rather shows them the literal intent of unfolding events. Whether it be the band covering Europe’s hit song The Final Countdown at a communal bar being the reflection of how this would be the final assassination for Wilson, or the imagery of an old, washed-up sea vessel crumbling into the ocean mirroring the washed-up persona of old Wilson himself. The film often felt more like a toured book of planned occurrences than a movie with surprise and allure.
It is hard not to compare one movie to another, and unfortunately for ‘American Star’, I often found myself comparing themes with the cult film ‘In Bruges’. Although not remotely of the same genre, the themes around assassins on their days off and the grand imagery of Europe’s stunning locations, often left me wondering if the film was at all inspired by the other and sadly, it just didn’t compare.
Watched at the right time, in the right setting with the right people, ‘American Star’ could certainly be appreciated by most, however, with audiences watching movies from the comfort of their couches rather than via the big screen experience, the scenes of striking cinematography will be lost on many and the added sluggish pacing will likely kill much attention spans quicker than a hitman on holiday.
American Star is coming to UK Cinemas & Digital Platforms on 23 February 2024.