American Star review | Ian McShane’s hitman needs to kill some time

Ian McShane in American Star.
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Ian McShane plays an almost-retired assassin waiting for his final mark in this surprising drama – here’s our American Star review.

With American Star, Gonzalo López-Gallego, the director of sci-fi thriller Apollo 18, tackles a remarkably different kind of film. Driven by the sheer charisma and talent of Ian McShane, the film sees an almost-retired professional assassin travel to the Spanish island of Fuerteventura to perform one last job.

When he finds his target is running late he has some time to kill, deciding – against protocol – to stay on the island for a few days until he can complete the job. In that time, he meets with local people, forms some unexpected connections and becomes fascinated with an old shipwreck off the coast of the island – the ship in question being called The American Star. 

There’s an easy comparison to be made here, at least in terms of premise, to Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges. Both focus on assassins aimlessly spending time in foreign countries between jobs. But this is no ‘In Fuerteventura’. American Star stands out in terms of its tone. Instead of possessing the dark comedy running through In Bruges, it opts to play this story straight, with a surprising amount of earnestness and real emotion. 

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its comedic moments. With no particular aim and an unknown amount of time to fritter away, McShane stays at his resort for the first part of his trip, enduring Parkdean-levels of in-house entertainment, including an off-key rendition of The Final Countdown. He’s also admired from afar by the older ladies, something McShane’s nameless character seems quietly amused by. That’s one of the great things about the actor’s performance. Even when he’s alone and has no one to converse with, his expressions convey everything that you need to know about how his character’s feeling. 

While he never dares to approach the women casting glances his way, he does make some unexpected friends. One of them is a young lad staying at his hotel, played with a great deal of enthusiasm by Oscar Coleman. The assassin isn’t a character type you tend to associate with the concept of family, and so their grandfather-grandson-like interactions are interesting to watch. With how many hitmen there have been in cinema, it’s a credit to McShane and American Star that his feels somehow different. 

For one, it’s quickly revealed that he actually likes people. Once he gets out of the resort, he meets the bubbly Gloria (Nora Arnezeder), and begins to accompany her on adventures around the island, even meeting her mother for lunch. It’s lovely to see this kind of assassin – one that’s just a person who discovers that, despite what protocol says, it’s just nice to make some real human connections.

The focus on the relationships McShane’s character makes does mean that the plot can be a bit meandering. It’s also strange that the shipwreck the film is named after is featured very little overall. Early scenes, as well as his first trip to the coast with Gloria, imply that there’s more adventure involved in the plot than there ends up being. This doesn’t end up being too disappointing, though, on account of how lovely McShane’s interactions with the supporting characters are and how earnest it all feels. Again, American Star thrives almost purely on McShane’s talent.

There’s one way in which American Star emulates other movies of its like, and that’s in its ending. Given the nature of this story, where it ends up feels quite inevitable, but American Star takes us on an enjoyable journey with a typically cold character who indulges his human side.

American Star is in cinemas and on digital platforms on 23rd February.

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