American Assassin (2017)
Directed by: Michael Cuesta
Written by: Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz, Michael Finch, Stephen Schiff, Vince Flynn
Starring: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaah Lathan, Taylor Kitsch
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 112 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Mitch Rapp lost both his parents in a car accident when he was 14, but finally finds happiness in his 20’s with his girlfriend Katrina. On a beach in Spain he proposes to her, but suddenly a terrorist attack occurs and Katrina is shot dead. Hell-bent on revenge, Mitch learns how to act like a potential Islamic State terrorist and infiltrates one particular group in Tripoli. However, his mission doesn’t go as planned, but does bring him to the attention of CIA counter-terrorism official Irene Kennedy who “likes his agenda”. She sends him to be trained by Cold War veteran Stan Hurley to be a ruthless, emotionless black ops assassin, but will Mitch’s impulsiveness and refusal to follow orders be any good when trying to track down a stolen plutonium core….
I guess some may find the release of a film like this distasteful given the current climate, though I actually think that we could do with more films showing Islamic terrorist scum being dispatched in a variety of gruesome ways. This is one of those films where you’re probably intended to cheer the violence the good guys dish out, the high point [or low point considering your point of view] probably being when pretty Turkish agent Annika jams a knife into a foot then gouges out the same guy’s eyes with her thumbs. On the other hand this film also contains a torture scene which is genuinely wince-inducing and which probably belongs more in a Hostel film. Much like The Hitman’s Bodyguard from a few weeks back, American Assassin wears its ‘R’ rating with pride and it’s great to see a few more action movies not feeling they have to go for a ‘PG-13’. This one isn’t anywhere near as loonily entertaining as the Ryan Reynolds starrer which aside from some vomitous camerawork really did feel it was from the ’80’s, but it still just about does the job. Actually attempting to capture more of the feel of films like Ronin and even Munich rather than, say, Taken or a Bourne adventure, it’s obviously intended to launch a series based on the books by Vince Flynn. I’m not sure that it’s fresh enough to do that, with the plot little more than a series of cliches [what a surprise, the chief villain was once trained by Hurley], while Dylan O’ Brien, on the evidence of this film, just doesn’t have the acting ability to sustain a franchise, his seriously dull performance [which in no way gives the impression of a hard man who can kill in cold blood] at times hampering matters even if we appreciate that he’s playing somebody fuelled by grief.
Fortunately, pretty much everyone else is fine and Michael Keaton owns the screen as usual, makes his thinly drawn character into a kind of older version of his Bruce Wayne. He really does exude toughness and again shows what a bloody good actor he is. The gunplay and fights are reasonably well handled by director Michael Cuesta, usually known for thoughtful dramas, with only a few short bits of ‘shakycam’, and he’s able to show us that O’ Brien is doing many of his own stunts. If you know London though, you’ll notice that at least two very obvious city locations ludicrously double as places in Warsaw and Istanbul, while the CGI-led climax almost seems to come from a different film altogether. Mitch’s foolhardiness often seems ridiculous but of course usually gets the right results. At one point, he doesn’t trust another character and this mistrust turns out to be founded, yet a few moments later he conveniently trusts her again because he wants her to help him. This really is one of those films you should switch your brain off whilst watching, but if you’re able to do so and have a fondness for action movies of the old school then you may be sufficiently entertained. I was.