Review by Cole Groth
American Star seems like a scam after the credits roll. Ian McShane is a leading man in a hitman movie? That sounds exciting; sign me up! That’s the thought process that many viewers will go through for this, but don’t go into this expecting any action because this supposed thriller is about as barebones as possible. Once you get past that fact, you’re left with a thought-provoking drama about an aging assassin’s last hit.
In this film, directed by Gonzalo López-Gallego, we follow Wilson (the similarity to his character, Winston, in the John Wick movies is not lost on me), an octogenarian assassin sent to the island of Fuerteventura for his final mission. Upon arrival, his target doesn’t arrive. Instead of leaving to get a new target, he instead waits on the island and undergoes a journey of self-discovery. A few twists and turns keep some of the promised thrills up, but for the most part, you’re watching a slow drama about a man coming to terms with his demons.
López-Gallego’s style shines in the beginning and end of the film. It’s clear that he was hired to make a movie about a hitman and the action that comes alongside it, and he feels trapped in a screenplay that is about 10% action and 90% drama. The strange thing is that the drama is pretty interesting, and by the film’s end, I almost wished it leaned more into that. Since the movie feels designed around the beginning and conclusion, which are tonally opposite of the stuff in the middle, the drama is a little confusing, and the action is jarring.
All this is to say that I was expecting something intense and exciting from the first few minutes, but the result is perhaps more interesting than it could’ve been. McShane is undoubtedly incredible here. Even at 81 years old, he’s still got it. His brooding silence through each scene is fascinating, making each scene feel like it will have some exciting ending, even if it doesn’t. There’s been an influx of vacation-themed slide-of-life dramas recently, like Aftersun, How to Have Sex, and The Lost Daughter, and this is a surprisingly interesting twist on those films.
Simply put, if you’re into slow-paced dramas, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this. It takes a lot of patience to get through the story, and while I personally have a hard time getting through this, this was made with fans of that subgenre in mind. It’s nicely shot, and when it tries to be stylistic, it is a visually impressive movie.
American Star is a film torn between what it wants to be. We’re shown plenty of promise in the beginning with a slick opening sequence. Then, it slowly wanes into a vacation drama that, by the time it gets interesting, is already returning to the action stuff. The ending is a bizarre way to finish the story here because it contradicts everything set up by the first two acts. If you’re looking for the next chapter in a spiritual John Wick series, this is certainly not it. If you’re a fan of calm reflection with a hint of thrills, this is interesting enough to warrant a viewing.
American Star releases on VOD starting January 26.