Movie Review: American Assassin
One of the new releases this weekend is the Michael Cuesta directed American Assassin. Based on the novel of the same name from Vince Flynn, it follows a young CIA black ops recruit. Dylan O’Brien (Deepwater Horizon, The Maze Runner) plays recruit Mitch Rapp, and Michael Keaton (Birdman, Spotlight) plays former U.S. Navy SEAL Stan Hurley. The film also features a supporting cast in Sanaa Lathan (Love & Basketball, Now You See Me 2), Taylor Kitsch (John Carter, Lone Survivor), David Suchet, and Shiva Negar.
The movie begins with Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) and his girlfriend, Katrina, on vacation in Spain. After proposing to her, Rapp steps away to go retrieve drinks in celebration of the event. While there, a radical Islamic jihadist cell arrives on the beach and begins attacking civilians with gunfire. Katrina is killed in the attack, which sets Rapp on a completely different path. Eighteen months later he is training vigarously in hand-to-hand combat and weapons and seeking vengeance on the leader of the attack. After contacting the leader through a message board for some time, Rapp is invited to meet him face to face. Once he arrives, though, the U.S. Special Forces ambush the cell and eliminate all the members of the present terrorist group. Rapp is dragged out by special forces and placed in a CIA Safe House for 30 days for a debriefing. At the end of that time, Rapp is offered an opportunity to train under Hurley (Keaton) and be a part of an elite squad. When nuclear grade weapons material goes missing, though, Hurley and Rapp’s skills are put to the test.
As someone who enjoys a good action/espionage film, I was looking forward to seeing American Assassin. The action and combat sequences were well done, and I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses we received of Rapp’s training. The film even had some interesting twists in terms of character development. However, the story stilted at moments, and I found the motivations behind some characters’ actions to be lacking.
As far as performances go, I found Dylan O’Brien to be impressive in the role. He plays a revenge-driven recruit well, and I thought that he mastered the physicality that the role required. I’m always happy to see Michael Keaton in a role, and while I enjoyed Keaton’s hardened former veteran persona, there were also some moments in his performance that were just strange. I had a flashback to Beetlejuice at one moment, and while I can appreciate a moment of madness in a character, it felt out of place. Taylor Kitsch is a talented actor, but I felt like his character needed more development to feel effective. Shiva Negar was an excellent addition to the movie and a lesser-known actress to look forward to in future films.
While the movie was mostly enjoyable, it was not the intense film I had hoped it would be. It utilized shock well in the midst of gunfire and carnage from attacks, but by the end of the movie, it was nudging into the world of unbelievability. The CGI at the end of the film was fairly terrible, and there were serious moments that came across as comical. The whole theme of revenge is prevalent in the film, but the mixed messages concerning it added to my mixed feelings about the film. American Assassin wasn’t a bad movie by any means, but it could have benefitted greatly from some restructuring in Act Three and slightly stronger character development. While it might not be the next Jason Bourne franchise, I think it is well suited for a Redbox rental at home.