American Star

American Star
American Star
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Beyond any doubt at all, moviegoers will rank the latest mystery thriller by director Gonzalo López-Gallego with the blockbuster Keanu Reeves action franchise, John Wick. Not only do both of these movies feature sophisticated British actor Ian McShane, but they are also about well-dressed assassins with storied pasts who go on one final mission before retiring from a long career in killing people for money. However, they diverge most greatly in execution; while one provides an endless supply of frenetic action and nonstop violence to keep adrenaline pumping through your veins for hours after leaving the theater, the other seeks instead to touch hearts and minds with a poignant look into what it might be like being a hitman’s last few days working.

Set against the starkly beautiful backdrop of Fuerteventura in Spain’s Canary Islands (which is credited as its own character), American Star takes us deep into this remote corner where Wilson (McShane) has been sent by his employer to off some guy in a mansion on the island. When he arrives too early and has to wait around town until his target becomes available, something happens to him that never happened before on any job: He changes. Suddenly all these things start happening around him that make him question everything he thought he knew about life — or at least being alive — up until now.

It is these moments that really shine for McShane as an actor — not when he’s doing anything flashy or showy but just playing someone who’s coming face-to-face with what else there could be (outside this soulless occupation). A female barkeep named Gloria (played by Nora Arnezeder) catches Wilson’s eye because she seems interested in things children are interested in — you know, like rainbows and why does music sometimes sound like it’s coming from inside your head? But staying at the same hotel as Wilson is Max (young Oscar Coleman), a little boy whose soul seems untouched by age or experience and who keeps trying to get Wilson to play with him using old toys and games he brought from home.

These may sound like quirky characters cooked up in a screenwriter’s lab, but they work beautifully in the context of this film — especially as catalysts for change within Wilson himself. From the opening frames, it’s clear that Wilson is tired; he’s done with this life. But while his younger coworker Ryan (Adam Nagaitis), who was sent to Fuerteventura to babysit him until he completes the job, still exudes the kind of cold-heartedness that comes with being new at realizing your dreams of becoming a heartless enforcer are dead wrong.

There is nothing inherently wrong with methodical pacing and long transitional sequences — especially when you have such wide open landscapes and vast expanses of dirt roads at your disposal (as American Star does). But there also has to be some sort of payoff later on down the road, some reason why we sat through what felt like an hour of watching Ian McShane drive from one side of Fuerteventura to other. And if there was, I must have missed it.

This kind of slow pacing makes for a very grounded and realistic world, but the American Star also tries to show Wilson’s innermost desires by representing them through climactic computer-generated sequences that just feel fake. Not only do these scenes take viewers out of the realism of this small private world, they also reduce the impact of the character interactions that they are connected to (Gloria and Max, specifically). The same emotional value could have been created somewhere else easily enough and with practical effect that didn’t need overdone theatrics to get across.

While all memorable and serving some purpose, the supporting cast are simply different personalities met by Wilson in Fuerteventura rather than being part of an interlocking whole. True, these apparently separate arcs might be an allegorical representation for relationships which have been so disappointingly lost during his curtailed and cold existence but American Star feels like episodes from a nomadic TV series.

At times Ryan is seen in scenes with Gloria however; he only seeks maliciously pivot Wilson back into his lane as a hitman not one who behaves like human being. Gloria herself appears to become romantic opportunity for Wilson until her mother (played by great French actress Fanny Ardent) warns him about her daughter’s wants and needs. Although each member of this cast does their role superbly well – it is lack of coherence among characters which breaks down film rather than showing how lonely life can be for assassin forever cursed by solitude.

Still there is more than enough within 107 minutes runtime of American Star even if parts are disjointed to make this interesting and enjoyable movie. It becomes engaging studying what really we are following behind this man on his last mission. With possibility of decent life in hands – struggle by Wilson to keep something real fades away eventually. Any wishful thinking that may have been held since meeting people like Gloria or Max must be abandoned if you want live through it. Beneath thrilling allure of gunmen who shoot for keeps and many types fruitful relationships one can make on a secluded isle like Fuerteventura, American Star turns out to be ultimately moving cinematic and thematic tragedy.

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