Steve McQueen: American Icon
Universal // Unrated // $13.99 // February 20, 2018
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted March 20, 2018
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The Movie:

In trivia of the personally strange, I tend to gravitate to documentaries on Steve McQueen, as I've watched the one where McQueen labored over years to get his Le Mans film made, and I've also seen the one that examines why McQueen was so charismatic and his life with remembrances by his son Chad. I didn't know what to expect from Steve McQueen: American Icon, but it wasn't without intrigue.

There was a point late in McQueen's life that he had discovered spirituality and faith and his love of Jesus Christ. Yes, THAT Steve McQueen! And American Icon spends some exploratory time diving into that period in his life, but this is spent near the end of the 80-minute film, after the film has hit touchstones in McQueen's life like his popularity amongst men and women and the amount of money he amassed making movies, and some personal turmoil as well.

Greg Laurie is a pastor based mainly in California, but more relevant to this is that he is a fan of Steve McQueen, and he drives a Mustang that looks a lot like the one McQueen used in the film Bullitt, and he drives around various places in California that have some relevance and/or significance in McQueen's life. While the film is narrated by Gary Sinise (Forrest Gump), his narration is kept fairly minimal in impact as the film includes interviews with McQueen's widow and pastor. Admirers of McQueen like Mel Gibson (Braveheart) talk about why McQueen was so admired, why he was so cool.

Laurie initially wrote "The Salvation of an American Icon," a book that became the inspiration for the film, and he handles the interviews of the subjects, to an occasional strange result or two. It's in the bonus material but at one point, devoted Steve McQueen fan Laurie apparently forgets how old McQueen was when he died? It's not part of the final cut of the film but it certainly gave me pause. That concern aside, McQueen's exploration of his faith is an interesting and somewhat mysterious journey. At one point, McQueen and the Reverend Billy Graham met to discuss faith, the Lord and afterlife when McQueen was suffering from mesothelioma, cancer in his lungs. The few people aware of McQueen's quest, who were interviewed for the film, share the insight they have on what he was doing in these discussions.

A couple of things I noticed about American Icon that I was taken with, the big one being the lack of connection to McQueen's journey for faith. McQueen's widow talks about how he came into a room with her and said she should put on a dress, they were going to church. It seemed like there should be some sort of further explanation to his faith that was explained in the film or even in the book somehow, but the film comes off as saying ‘Hey look! Steve McQueen liked God, you can too!' and that left me feeling that that was a little below board. Secondly, if you're going to talk about Steve McQueen, I think you better be sure to include whatever component you're looking at within the larger context of his life, and I think American Icon lands short in that bar. We know about McQueen the womanizer, the desire for fame, the gearhead, and how that was part of his persona. We don't really get McQueen the lover of Christ with that here and it's disappointing.

To be clear, Steve McQueen's fascination with God near the end of his life was something I wasn't aware of and was curious to learn more about. American Icon spends less time about that and almost kind of nods in approval that McQueen did find the Lord, being enamored of a notable convert rather than exploring this important part of the convert's life. For the ways it could have been handled, American Icon could have done better with it.

The Disc:
The Video:

Universal presents American Icon in an anamorphic 2.40:1 widescreen transfer that is complaint free. The film borrows video and film of McQueen's appearances and filmography along with a variety of stills and they all look good, with the shots of Laurie driving looking particularly gorgeous during magic hour with lots of greens and yellows in the frames when doing so, perhaps to give it that extra spiritual oomph. It looks fine.

The Sound:

Dolby Digital 5.1 surround for the film and it's fine. The older material wasn't in stereo anyway so Laurie's Mustang serves as the only real reminder the production has six channels of audio, which it does occasionally. The interviews are in good shape as well, though there is a slight tendency to turn up McQueen's last interview (for obvious, health-related reasons on McQueen's part). Generally given the source material it's as good as it's going to be.


There is some extended interview footage with Gibson (14:59) and McQueen's widow (15:06) that covers thoughts on his coolness, his flying, his romancing, and his fascination with John Travolta's hair. Note: some of these Gibson did not talk about. Anyway, a message from Laurie (5:48) discusses McQueen's faith at a 2017 sermon, and "Discovery of the Bullitt" (6:32) recounts how the infamous car was found and how people knew that it was THE car.

Final Thoughts:

American Icon covers a little-discussed portion of Steve McQueen's life, but given the incomplete nature of the revelation and the way this is shown in the film, you're left wondering why such resources were given to this unless an ulterior motive was in mind. It's a decent movie and it's worth checking out, but it could have been given a little less attention and perhaps been more impactful in another McQueen documentary that I'm sure I'll be seeing shortly. It's a quick enough film that's worth a look.

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