LIONSGATE FILMS (2017)
Director: Michael Cuesta
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch
“Out there you’re a ghost, you don’t exist!”
Part of an ongoing sixteen novel series by Vince Flynn, American Assassin marks the first cinematic adventure of Mitch Rapp, portrayed here by Dylan O’Brien, a CIA recruit with a vendetta against terrorism the world over. The movie itself covers a fair chunk of the world (well, Europe…), filming in Rome, Istanbul, Malta, Hungary, Spain and…Croydon.
Globe-trotting still doesn’t make the movie all that great.
Whilst on holiday in Ibiza, Mitch proposes to his girlfriend (Charlotte Vega) in the sea amidst applause from the on-looking beach revellers. Time to celebrate and get the drinks in. Whilst ordering their drinks, armed terrorists storm the beach and open fire from all directions, leaving a trail of bodies and death. Mitch frantically attempts to reach Charlotte but cannot prevent her from being gunned down and murdered in cold blood.
Eighteen months later, Mitch is now seemingly an expert in Islam and covertly manages to secure a meeting with the terrorist who murdered his fiancée – with one thing on the agenda, revenge. Before he can extract sweet retribution, US Special Forces ambush and kill the terrorist, taking away Mitch’s opportunity. Mitch is taken to a CIA safe house and offered a chance to join the covert team Orion by Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Lathan) under the intense tutelage of Cold War vet, Stan Hurley (Keaton). Accepting the invite, Mitch is set to work and hard training, until evidence of missing nuclear material comes to light meaning Orion are sent in to investigate Iranian hardliners running for office, and also an unknown antagonist simply known as “Ghost” (Kitsch).
That title. “American” Assassin. Sigh. Hi movie, go and meet American Heist and sink some beers together.
American Assassin started so promisingly. The opening salvo on the beach is nothing short of harrowing. It was utter hell to watch. Cuesta got this absolutely spot on, from the reveal of the terrorists to the panicked chaos down to the sickening gunshots roaring across the beach, the scene had a brutal intensity that really grabs you. The authenticity is scary. From there on, the movie slowly declines until we get to the end credits. The final scene is good, however, the movie descends into mundanity well before that. It’s just everything that has been seen before it.
It’s all very cliché too. Mitch grows a beard to assert his newfound toughness (he even gets told to keep the noise down by his landlord, what a badass!), there’s huge gunfights that exist solely to show that revenge is bad (…right), the dialogue for each undercooked character borders on awful. There’s a lot to not be enthused about, to be frank. The action scenes are big and look great (the final showdown aside), there’s no denying that, plus mixed in are some vicious death scenes as well – it just seems at odds with what the movie initially set out to achieve with its messages. The plot in itself is convoluted – characters contradict each other constantly in regards to Mitch, there are rival factions who all want to murder each other and the USA at the same time, how did Mitch become so efficient in everything so quickly? The ideas were not adapted in a concise manner.
It almost seems hip to say now, however, Michael Keaton is the one saving grace here. He unleashes his inner beast once more and gives life to some terrible dialogue and scenes with a manner the rest of the cast should take note of (he also has the movies best badass moment). Dylan O’Brien is OK, I couldn’t buy him as a ruthless killer and I couldn’t connect with him during his initial scenes with his girlfriend (pre-murder). The rest of the cast were one-note and played their parts to stereotypical perfection, including Taylor Kitsch as the big bad.
American Assassin is, unfortunately, an overly-familiar romp through standard action movie tropes, complete with pure testosterone brimming from the screen. After a fantastic opening scene (and a solid opening thirty minutes or so) everything explodes in a hail of mediocrity and action over development. Was this a pure action film or did the director want us to believe in its significance? I’d hazard a huge guess on the latter, and that’s the movies key problem.
American assassination on my eyes.
September 25th 2017