Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Movie Review: American Assassin (2017)


A straightforward action thriller, American Assassin enjoys a few good moments of mindless excitement but is otherwise fully constructed from recycled components.

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) has his life shattered when his fiancee Katrina is killed during a terrorist attack on a Spanish beach. He dedicates himself to intensive combat training and attempts to infiltrate the Libyan-based jihadist cell behind the attack. His misadventure ends with capture by the CIA. Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) spots his raw talent and recruits Mitch into the black ops Orion unit led by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton).

Mitch excels in training and is deployed to the field when stolen weapons-grade plutonium appears on the black market. In Istanbul Mitch and Stan are joined by agent Annika (Shiva Negar) to try and disrupt a plot by rogue Iranian officials to secure a nuclear bomb. The plotters are enabled by ex-CIA agent Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who shares a dark background with Stan and harbours a personal agenda.

An attempt to launch a franchise based on the Mitch Rapp series of novels by author Vince Flynn, American Assassin is an inauspicious start. A troubled production cycled through a series of writers, actors and directors before yielding a routine script cobbled together by four writers, with director Michael Cuesta at the helm.

Some of the action scenes are effective, a torture sequence may be unnecessary but is certainly memorable, and Cuesta does nail an imaginative ending despite some clunky imagery. But in a cinematic world where James Bond, Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne have each completed multiple and complex counterterrorism missions, Mitch Rapp is more than anything redundant.

The film is not helped by insufficient character depth and an absence of intelligent discourse. Mitch as an angry young man unable to separate revenge from patriotic duty is a cliche of eye-rolling proportions, not helped by Dylan O'Brien's dour and one-dimensional demeanour. Michael Keaton tries his best to inject some gravitas, but is marginally miscast as the grizzled leader of a clandestine unit. The two men's macho posturing and barbed exchanges about motives and orders never rise above slipshod and circular.

Rather than waste time on any thoughtful pauses, American Assassin rushes to the next destination where an action set-piece awaits, bullets and bodies flying until a rudimentary clue pops out, pointing the way to more of the same.






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