' ' Cinema Romantico: American Star

Monday, April 08, 2024

American Star

Even before Wilson (Ian McShane) removes a gun and dossier from the trunk of his rental car, you know he’s an assassin the minute he shows up in the subtropical Fuerteventura of the Canary Islands all alone and wearing all black. That might immediately mark “American Star” as something familiar, and worn, a lone wolf hitman in a beautiful place. It’s not so much that director Gonzalo López-Gallego, working from a script by Nacho Faerna, reinvents or even reimagines the hoary tale as it is he strips it down to virtually nothing and then builds it out of the essence of its main character, or more accurately, its lead actor. Though the screenplay withholds information about Wilson’s background, offering little teases, about fighting in the Falklands and such, it’s never trying to solve the mystery, exactly, so much as luxuriate in this enigmatic man’s presence much as he luxuriates in Fuerteventura’s. And who better to spend a whole movie luxuriating than Ian McShane. Imagine “John Wick,” except rather than following the eponymous hitman as he goes about the Continental Hotel offing various bad guys, you stayed in the secure room with Winston as he sat on the sofa and drank bourbon.

Upon arriving in the Canary Islands, Wilson proceeds straight away to a lavish home in the middle of nowhere, though the way he takes care not to leave fingerprints denotes it’s not a rental. He’s there to deliver a package, in a manner of speaking, by rubbing someone out, but that someone isn’t there and someone else shows up instead, prompting him to leave and wait until the target returns. The camera’s fluidity in this sequence, elegantly dipping and darting down halls, forward and to the side, evokes the movie to come, and how sometimes the camera represents Wilson’s point-of-view, in complete control, and others, departs from his point-of-view, a mind of its own, eliciting surprise, the two sides of Wilson’s faux getaway. And that’s sort of how “American Star” proceeds, as a faux getaway, improbably merging George Clooney of “The American” with Margo Martindale of “Paris Je T’aime.” He makes unexpected friends with a young boy named Max (Oscar Coleman), searching for a haven from his arguing parents, and Gloria (Nora Arnezeder), the woman he glimpses inside the home at the start and then runs into at a bar. She takes him to see the American Star, the luxury ship from the 1940s that wrecked near the shore in 1994. 

If it sounds dubious that the younger Nora might take an interest in the older, weirder Wilson, this is smoothed out by McShane’s presence, as courtly as it is mysterious, which makes us drawn to him just as it makes her drawn to him. Yet, the reasons for their relationship deepen as the story progresses, and in ways that that I won’t reveal, but that do not evade the age difference but essentially build off it. And though Wilson’s friendship with Max strains credulity a bit more, there is nevertheless something refreshingly startling is his advice to the boy that honesty is not always the best policy, an observation that equally informs his fatalistic relationship with Nora. That fatalism manifests itself as it tends to in noir through a burst of gruesome violence as sudden as it is expected, as if nothing can really ready you for the end. And that’s what makes the otherwise obvious metaphor of the American Star work too. McShane might play his character’s own mortality with a sense of grave dignity, like a man walking unperturbed into the ocean to drown, but upon standing in front of the shipwreck, moving him to remark that he and the American Star, they’re about the same age, I swear, those 26,454 tons feel like they all land right on top of you. 

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