Directed by Michael Cuesta
Starring Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan
As the central character to a slew of popular novels Mitch Rapp is certainly someone we were bound to see transition to film. The CIA counter terrorism operative has been keeping the US safe from bad guys since writer Vince Flynn penned him back in 1999. Now American Assassin sees him finally take that crusade to the big screen.
When his fiancé is killed in front of him by terrorists, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), dedicates his life to revenge. As he infiltrates the terrorist cell responsible, his vengeance is plucked away from him by his CIA controller Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). She instead offers him a chance to serve his country as a black ops recruit under the intense training of Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). However, with an amount of weapons grade nuclear material having fallen into terrorist hands, Rapp will soon need to perfect those skills in the field.
Ultimately American Assassin is something akin to trying to recreate a Tom Clancy novel, by gluing a torn up Punisher comic to a Bourne script, and hoping for the best. The end result is a serviceable film, but grim and somewhat bland, with absolutely nothing of any political or social nuance. It is violent, and cruel, and it’s sole message seems to be, the bad must be punished through any and every means necessary.
That sort of deadpan action, really does make it difficult to decide what this film is trying to be. It is not realistic enough to be a le Carré thriller or Homeland, never shedding any light on the subtleties of spy-craft. It’s not over the top enough to be a Bond or a Kingsman, so doesn’t provide that escapist entertainment. It just has a whole lot of people die on screen, as Rapp kills for both revenge and country, to get the mission accomplished. Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) doesn’t seem to stop to examine the morals of the situation, just plough through. Having said that, the action scenes are on the whole handled with a degree of competency, and O’Brien (The Maze Runner) makes a decent Rapp, providing the physicality to the role, even if his intensity is a little lacking at times.
However it is Keaton that makes this film watchable. As the tough as nails Cold War vet, and black ops trainer, Stan Hurley, he owns nearly every scene he’s in. Keaton plays the character as coldly cynical, yet always alert and ready to engage in unarmed combat at a moments notice. It’s amazing to see that just conveyed by his rigid stance, and in the few sequences that he gets to go over the top with the character are just almost worth the price of admission alone.
A solid, albeit not stunning film, that is lifted by a great actor in the mentor role. Still it is questionable whether this will be able to launch the franchise of films that it clearly wishes to do.