After losing his fiancé in a brutal terror attack, Mitch Rapp decides to take revenge on those responsible. When his efforts to infiltrate the terrorist cell gain the attention of the CIA, Mitch is placed into the Orion program where he will learn how to become a lethal assassin. As Mitch begins his first mission, Orion and the CIA learns that a rogue element have taken control of a nuclear weapon with the intention to start a nuclear war. Based on the popular series by Vince Flynn, American Assassin is directed by Michael Cuesta and stars Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Taylor Kitsch, Scott Adkins, David Suchet, Shiva Negar, and Navid Negahban.
Starting with the positives about American Assassin and that is that the cast is fantastic. The movie is extremely well acted and the cast give performances that exceed the story requirements. Michael Keaton continues to bring his talent as Stan Hurley, the former Cold War operative who trains the best warriors to be the best covert assets for the CIA. Despite feeling like this was a typical Keaton performance, he is still fantastic to watch and elevates the movie. As a massive fan of the TV series Friday Night Lights I have been eagerly following the career of Taylor Kitsch aka Tim Riggins. He had a few missteps early in his career as he was pushed to become a movie star, but with the performance he gives as Ghost in American Assassin it feels like he is on the right track. He handles the physical and the dramatic work extremely well; it is just unfortunate that there wasn’t more depth to his character. Maybe Kitsch has found his niche as the supporting actor given how strongly he has performed in these roles in recent years. The casting of Dylan O’Brien was a brilliant idea, the guy is young enough to handle the physicality of the role as well as start a new franchise (or at least that was the plan). He is a talented enough actor but again the movie doesn’t know what to do with him, they never utilise the character properly. Given the fact the movie is a revenge story the audience is naturally on his side, but the filmmakers don’t actively try to keep them there. The story has him so focused on revenge and yet he doesn’t give everything to the program, he often disobeys orders and doesn’t appear to be willing to learn. Then has a massive character change in direction that doesn’t work with the story. O’Brien gives a solid performance but the character is extremely under utilised and flawed. Under utilised is a theme with the characters in American Assassin even though they give a good performance. Shiva Negar is perfect example of this, her character Annika suffers from the fact that she is meant to be somewhat of an attraction for Mitch, but when he is driven by vengeance after the death of his fiancé it is hard to feel the attraction. She could have been a badass character in the similar vain to Loraine from Atomic Blonde but like some of the other characters, the story doesn’t know how to handle them.
The revenge element is a clever point to work with; someone murders the woman he loves so he becomes solely focused on destroying those responsible. This would have been an interesting story to stick with where the agency trains him to try and track down this terrorist cell, putting his thirst for revenge up against his duty as an operative. Story would have benefited from having Al-Mansur’ terrorist cell as the villains throughout the entire film, thus blurring the lines for Mitch. His reckless actions would then make more sense for the character if he were to continuously run off after people he thought could lead him to his fiancés killer. Instead we get his forced battle with Ghost, which feels more forced than natural.
My major problems with American Assassin stems from the fact the over all story feels like a generic spy movie. Which isn’t a bad thing, I really enjoyed Atomic Blonde and that had a very generic spy story to it, but American Assassin just feels too similar. I have not read the books so I am unfamiliar with the source material but there is very little in this film that make it stand out from other spy movies. You can’t actually call this a spy thriller because it doesn’t have those same thriller moments that take you by surprise, which is really unfortunate as this felt like it would be a smarter movie. A lot of the movie felt a little on the nose, in particular the way they portrayed terrorists and their views on America, mixed with some of the patriotism this element didn’t quite hit the mark. The movie also follows the trope that the by the book guy can’t get it done but the guy who doesn’t follow the rules can. They do mention the reason he is picked is because he isn’t a soldier so he would react differently, but his abilities up against those who had trained for many years just seemed a little over the top.
This is a solid switch your brain off action movie that is easy to follow and easy to enjoy, the problem lies with the fact it never reaches its potential. This could have been a great new entry into the already stacked spy genre with a fresh new take and it just doesn’t get there. Hopefully it gets a sequel, because in the right hands this could be an incredible spy franchise and perhaps they can bring in Stahelski or Leitch to direct or at least be second unit directors on the second one, to beef up the action. With more than ten books to choose, many of which made the New York Times best selling list, it shouldn’t be hard to find a solid story to adapt.
See it for a fun experience, and a decent spy movie. If you are excited for this movie you should check it out in the cinema to help encourage a sequel.
American Assassin scores 6/10
Thanks for reading my review of American Assassin. What are your thoughts on the movie? Were you a fan of the books? Let me know in the comments section below.
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