American Star: A Slow Burn with Glimmering Performances


“American Star,” the 2024 neo-noir thriller from Spanish director Gonzalo López-Gallego, boasts a deceptively simple premise. Veteran assassin Wilson, played by the iconic Ian McShane, arrives on the idyllic Canary Island of Fuerteventura for one final job: to eliminate an unseen target. 

However, what unfolds is a contemplative character study disguised as a hitman movie, exploring themes of regret, redemption, and the allure of a life less ordinary.

A Frayed Hitman in Paradise

The film opens with Wilson, a weathered ex-military man with a gruff exterior and a haunted past. We learn little about his prior life as a killer, but McShane masterfully conveys a sense of weariness and cynicism etched into Wilson’s every glance. He settles into a spartan rented room, a stark contrast to the vibrant island life outside his window.

The target’s delay throws a wrench into Wilson’s carefully planned operation.  He finds himself drawn into the island’s rhythm, striking up an unlikely friendship with Sarah (Nora Arnezeder), a spirited waitress at the local bar.  Their conversations are laced with a subtle vulnerability, hinting at unspoken longing in both their lives.

All-Star Cast Elevates the Material

McShane is undeniably the film’s anchor.  His gravelly voice and piercing blue eyes lend gravitas to Wilson’s every move, even in moments of quiet contemplation.  Arnezeder brings a youthful spark to Sarah, creating a captivating counterpoint to Wilson’s world-weariness. 

The supporting cast is equally impressive, with Fanny Ardent radiating an air of mystery as a wealthy French woman and Thomas Kretschmann delivering a chilling performance as a shadowy figure from Wilson’s past.

Island Beauty and the Weight of the Past

López-Gallego paints Fuerteventura in a captivating light, showcasing its sun-drenched beaches and stark landscapes. The beauty of the island stands in stark contrast to the darkness Wilson carries within him.  

The film lingers on captivating shots of the turquoise waters, as if taunting Wilson with a life he can never fully embrace.

A Slow Burn with Philosophical Depth

“American Star” is not a film for those seeking high-octane action sequences.  The pacing is deliberate, focusing on character development and introspective dialogue.  López-Gallego  and screenwriter Nacho Faerna explore themes of regret, the burden of violence, and the search for meaning in a life built on taking lives.  

The film weaves in a haunting subplot involving a local shipwreck, further emphasizing the sense of lost souls adrift at sea.

Comparisons and Influences

While the basic premise of a hitman on a final job is familiar, “American Star” draws inspiration from European neo-noir classics like Jean-Pierre Melville’s “Le Samouraï” and Stephen Frears’ “The Hit.”  

These influences are evident in the film’s focus on atmosphere, character psychology, and the moral ambiguity of the assassin’s profession.

Critical Reception and Audience Response

Reviews for “American Star” have been mixed.  Some critics have lauded the film’s performances and evocative visuals, praising its slow-burn approach and exploration of existential themes.  

Others have found the pacing to be too slow and the narrative lacking in urgency.  Audience reception has mirrored critical opinion, with some viewers appreciating the film’s introspective nature and others finding it too uneventful.

A Film for Fans of Character-Driven Noir

Ultimately, “American Star” is a film that rewards patient viewers willing to engage with its nuanced characters and thematic depth.  Those seeking a traditional action thriller may be disappointed, but fans of slow-burn neo-noir with strong performances will find much to appreciate.  

McShane’s masterful portrayal of a weary assassin, coupled with the film’s stunning visuals and philosophical undercurrent, leave a lasting impression, making “American Star” a compelling addition to the genre.


What’s the true essence of the story? 

“American Star” transcends a simple hitman narrative. It’s a character study disguised as a thriller. Wilson’s final assignment becomes a catalyst for introspection, forcing him to confront the weight of his past and the emptiness of his chosen profession. The idyllic island setting serves as a stark contrast to his internal turmoil, highlighting the life he can never truly embrace.

Is Sarah just a love interest?

Sarah’s role extends far beyond a romantic cliché. She represents a life of normalcy and connection, a stark contrast to Wilson’s isolation. Their interactions spark a flicker of hope within him, forcing him to question the path he’s chosen.

What’s the significance of the shipwreck? 

The shipwreck is a powerful symbol. It represents lost souls, wasted potential, and the lingering consequences of past actions. It subtly reflects Wilson’s own state of being, a man adrift with a heavy past. By delving into the local legend surrounding the shipwreck, the film invites us to ponder the choices we make and the wreckage they can leave behind.

Does the film lack action entirely? 

While “American Star” has its moments of suspense, it’s not an action-driven spectacle. The focus lies on the psychological toll of Wilson’s work and the emotional journey he embarks on during his unexpected pause on the island.

Who is the mastermind behind the film? 

The visionary director, Gonzalo López-Gallego, crafts a captivating atmosphere with his masterful use of lighting and framing. He previously explored similar themes of isolation and moral ambiguity in “The Hollow Point” (2016).

What inspired the script? 

Screenwriter Nacho Faerna draws inspiration from classic European neo-noir films like “Le Samouraï” and “The Hit.” His script delves into the philosophical and existential questions that plague a hitman facing his final act.

Is it a remake of something familiar? 

No, “American Star” is a fresh take on the neo-noir genre. However, it pays homage to the classic films that paved the way, adopting their introspective approach and focus on character psychology.

Where did they film this beauty? 

The film’s picturesque setting plays a crucial role. Fuerteventura, a Canary Island paradise, is beautifully captured by the camera. The juxtaposition between its vibrant landscapes and Wilson’s internal struggles creates a powerful contrast.

“American Star” offers a captivating exploration of a hitman’s final assignment that transcends the typical action thriller.  While the film might not be for everyone, those seeking a slow-burn neo-noir experience will be rewarded.  

Director López-Gallego masterfully creates a contemplative atmosphere, beautifully complemented by the contrasting landscapes of Fuerteventura.  McShane delivers a powerful performance as Wilson, a weary assassin forced to confront his past choices.  

The supporting cast, particularly Arnezeder, adds depth and intrigue to the narrative.  Despite some mixed reviews regarding pacing, “American Star” remains a thought-provoking film that explores themes of regret, redemption, and the human desire for connection.  

Whether it becomes a cult classic or remains a hidden gem depends on the viewer’s preferences. But one thing’s for sure, “American Star” leaves a lasting impression, prompting viewers to ponder the choices we make and the consequences they leave behind.

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