American Assassin

September 13, 2017




I like to think of myself as an expert at what makes a great action flick. In American Assassin I was seeing all of the ingredients on the screen that could entertain, but what it amounts to is a missed opportunity. The reason being, director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) seems unwilling to show restraint and sends every moment blazing over the top when he could have settled for a solid genre flick. With a solid cast of actors, including the return of Maze Runner star Dylan O’Brien, American Assassin is a blood soaked action/thriller, that leaves you with little reason to care. 

Our hero is Mitch Rapp (O’Brien), a twenty-something romantic, whose proposal to Katrina (Charlotte Vega) in the Caribbean takes a turn for the worse. The score tightens and in one of the more shocking and violent scenes of the year, a group of terrorists come upon shore shooting multiple guests, including Mitch’s new bride-to-be. This sends him into a deep depression and a stern focus of revenge to infiltrate the group that murdered his love. He grows a nasty beard, bulks up, learns to fight MMA style, becomes skilled with multiple guns, and throwing knives. Mitch has become his own personal killing machine.

Meanwhile, the CIA has been monitoring Mitch and send him to train with a covert group called- Orion, lead by ex-Navy Seal Stan Hurley (played wildly by Michael Keaton). After a grueling training comes the mission, where the team must stop those involved in a recent deal of a black market nuclear bomb between the Iranian government and an evil ex-agent by the name of Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). It will lead to a lot of bloodshed and a mission for Mitch to find himself. 

The narrative behind the scenes of American Assassin is a bit more intriguing than the film itself. In 2016 O’Brien suffered multiple broken bones and facial lacerations filming a stunt for the next Maze Runner film, so his return is a feel-good comeback story. O’Brien’s performance is admirable, showing excellent fighting sequences and proving he can still lead an action film. The problems lie in the script taken from Vince Flynn’s best selling book. Writers Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz seem a bit confused if they are making a James Bond spy thriller, a John Grisham political intrigue, or a wacky John Woo action adventure. The final result is everything smashed together. 

It’s not all bad things in American Assassin. If there is one reason to see this movie it is Michael Keaton’s extreme over the top performance. His work as Hurley, similar to his evil turn as Vulture in Spider-Man: Homecoming, includes his classic lip curling facial gestures, a tough guy swagger, and a wild moment where he bites another mans ear off. There are also a few exciting fight sequences, which would have been more memorable had the rest of the film been more focused. 

I can’t leave without mentioning the biggest problems in the film lies in a lack of total restraint. What could have been well thought set pieces, is sacrificed for an over the top blood fest. I’m not typically sensitive to these kind of things, but director Michael Cuesta lingers too much on ludicrous violence. Men are shot point blank in the head, women are beaten senselessly, and bystanders are killed without remorse. Even Kitsch’s Ghost character feels like a villain plucked from any of the Die Hard installments, but that’s not the movie that was made. By the films end I felt exhausted and aware of what could have been.

 American Assassin had all the potential to be a successful welcome back for Dylan O’Brien. And although his capabilities on display reveal how much of a star he can be, I can’t help but feel the directors and writers lost sight of the kind of movie they wanted to make. Sometimes the worst products are American made. 

2 Stars 

Written by: Leo Brady


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