American Assassin




The late American author Vince Flynn created a compelling character named Mitch Rapp, a counter-terrorism agent whose brief was to deal with threats to the U.S.  Rapp appeared in 16 novels and some are being adapted to the screen.  AMERICAN ASSASSIN serves as the origin story for Rapp’s transition from carefree youth to determined and embittered black ops specialist.  


As we had with JACK RYAN : SHADOW RECRUIT featuring Chris Pine as the young Jack Ryan later to be the Harrison Ford character, so here we begin with an average American young man.


Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) an orphan and grad student, has but one thing on his mind.  His soon to occur wedding with fianceé Katrina, and they are holidaying in Ibiza when a band of Islamic terrorists raid the beach spraying the tourist mecca with a deadly hail of machine gun fire.  Rapp is badly wounded but survives.  Katrina is not so fortunate. Devastated by her loss, Rapp hardens into a focused revenge machine.  Over 18 months he learns Arabic, trains relentlessly and infiltrates the Middle East cell that caused the beach massacre.  His success in destroying them brings him to the attention of the head of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Unit, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who recruits him for formal missions.


Familiar plot?  


Been there before?




But there are elements that make this very watchable for fans of the hard-edged espionage action thriller.  Michael Keaton’s career resurgence is highly deserved.  His work in BIRDMAN, SPOTLIGHT, THE FOUNDER has been remarkable and he brings his screen power to bear here as well.  Keaton is Stan Hurley, a former Navy SEAL and Cold War veteran who trains raw recruits in the CIA’s field operative section.  After brutally readying Rapp physically and mentally, they embark on a vital mission to prevent some stolen Russian plutonium from being weaponized and detonated.  Although a small cadre of Iranian military, determined to use it against Israel, are the buyers of the deadly bomb, the arch villain is a rogue American mercenary named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch, really lifting his game here) who has his own plans for nuclear nightmare, but against an American target.


Rapp is given assistance by a CIA agent-in-place named Annika (the very attractive Shiva Negar) but there is zero romance in this hard and flinty tale.  The stakes with a nuclear football in play are too high and Rapp’s scars from the loss of Katrina are a long way from healed.


From here on the action speeds along like a cruise missile.  Yes logic falters at times and the script while serviceable does not quite ever touch brilliance, but this slick and well made film is purely for fans of the genre who tend to forgive such lapses.  Ranging from America to Rome, Istanbul, Warsaw and numerous locales in-between, the movie showcases how far Dylan O’Brien has come since his heartthrob days of THE MAZE RUNNER and TEEN WOLF.  If this is successful, thereby engendering sequels or even a mini franchise, much of the credit will go to him.  


Director Michael Cuesta is better known for the indie circuit with L.I.E. and 12 AND HOLDING but he also has a feel for this type of fare having helmed 8 episodes of HOMELAND and directing the underrated feature film KILL THE MESSENGER.  He keeps a hold on the runaway action fairly well and for much of the story, keeps his camera far back sufficiently to show O’Brien actually doing many of his own stunts.  Lushly shot by cinematographer Enrique Chediak, this is a worthy addition to the genre even if it does take itself a tad too seriously at times.




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