Synopsis – A story centered on counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp.
My Take – We live in a time when most action films are about the West vs. East scenario, and of course films being a great source advertisement for the hero portrayal, why not get in a highly trained & efficient super spy to lay out his political views, play peacemaker & resort to gun battle even if it’s necessary or not. This contemporary action/espionage thriller based on a series of books written by author Vince Flynn (who died in 2013, who wrote about 15 books covering the adventures of his hero, Mitch Rapp, so this could be the beginning of a new franchise, well if successful box office wise. If the trailers weren’t clear enough, Mitch Rapp is the latest iteration of a Jason Bourne and James Bond wannabe for today’s audience, who goes from being a carefree romantic average Joe who ends up being wounded both physically and mentally after finding himself in the middle of a terrorist attack, so of course the film evocatively explores terrorism and revenge from all angles , and like we all know, American films are quite sure that the threat has moved swiftly away from aliens and Russians, to the not so foreign or unfamiliar lands where mainly Arabs reside. Whether you enjoy this film or not will most likely depend on what kind of film you are expecting. If you are expecting a thriller with a complex plot and characters in the vein of the Bourne series then you are probably going to be disappointed. However, if you are looking for an espionage action film that delivers when it comes to decent action sequences, you’ll probably have a good time.
The story follows Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), who while enjoying a beach vacation in Spain with his lovely blonde girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega), whom he proposes to and Snap chats while they swim the waves, finds himself in the middle of an armed attack sent by global terrorist Adnan Al-Mansur (Shahid Ahmed) who begin machine-gunning the sun worshippers, Katrina among them. Eighteen months later, Mitch has taught himself guns and martial arts, learned fluent Arabic, grown a beard and lost any sense of humor he might have possessed, with only one mission in sight – revenge. Rapp’s ready to go after Al-Mansur as the proverbial one-man killing machine on a globe-trotting rampage, but eavesdropping CIA deputy chief Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) has other ideas: she wants him to join her special team. A team led by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a former Navy SEAL and Gulf War fighter who is now tasked with making government-sanctioned black-ops killers out of angry loners like Rapp. Despite their difference, Mitch and Stan decide to learn to work together and depend on each other to accomplish a critical new mission. The CIA learns that a former special operator simply called Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), with whom Stan has a problematic history, is shopping around a stolen plutonium core to some rogue government officials from Iran, who are against the 2015 American-Iranian nuclear deal. To stop the transaction, Mitch and Stan travel to Rome, along with another one of Stan’s trainees, Victor (Scott Atkins), where they all link up with a sexy Iranian agent, Annika (Shiva Negar) in an attempt to keep the plutonium out of the hands of Iranian agents who are assembling materials and people to make a nuclear device, which they have specific and imminent plans to use. The plot is your typical potboiler fare, bounding from the United States to Lebanon to Italy as Rapp finds opportunities to retaliate ruthlessly for his loss. From the opening you are pierced by this film – the frustration, the pain and sickening sense of revenge – and director Michael Cuesta throws you into the action from the word ‘go’. One of the things I liked most with this film how I felt integrated into the whole program that Mitch is going through. From the horrific tragedy that sends him down the vigilante pathway to the indoctrinating mission that sets his path, you’ll get all the emotional rides that come with it. As Mitch evolves as a character, you too get entangled in the complex web of emotions, all while feeling like a spy thanks to the intertwining scenes of spy technology digging up dirt on the target. The film throws few roadblocks into the simple and linear plot it is based on. One will go from point A to Point F faster than a kid connecting the dots, with little to try and take your attention away. Editors get props for keeping the tangent story lines at a minimum and keeping them relevant to bring you more thrills, spills, and kills. Audiences watching action films are often desensitized to the violence and murder in the plot but one thing the film successfully pulls off is bringing back the shock of a gunshot to the audience. You will feel every bullet shot in that film – even from the front row.
Although many people watching this film will not have experienced a terrorist attack (including myself) the film does the best job it can of helping you get into that frame of mind, and just as a terrorist attack too often does, the opening scene and the chillingly realistic violence comes upon you with immediacy. Director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) and a quartet of credited screenwriters keep the action — which hops from London to Istanbul to Rome — moving fluidly. Supervising his first mission is Hurley, who essentially shouts: “You kill the people I tell you to kill when I tell you to kill them!” Seriously, how do you keep the tension always at the peak while piggybacking nearly nonstop close-quarters fighting? By changing the details, terminating this villain with a knifelike shard of broken glass, dropping another character with a long-distance rifle or a fast-moving car, water boarding another in a filled bathtub, then making the next battle one between Rapp and three inflamed guard dogs, this is that type of action film that entertains with putting the main character into a revengeful path. It may not be a memorable plot or worth mentioning. But it is exciting to see a gritty, brutal Dylan O’Brien taking out bad guys. I won’t be surprised if this will be his franchise just like there are other spy action films like Bond or Jason Bourne. The action sequences are brutal; the fight scenes are quick and gritty. Mitch Rapp never holding back in letting a bad guy escape. It is fun to see Dylan O’Brien going through several action set pieces in trying to stop the villain from setting off a nuclear bomb. There’s the usual amount of techno babble and spy jargon, but it passes unobtrusively as the story gets down to its bloody kill-or-be-killed dynamics. This film isn’t anything that you haven’t seen before. It’s generic, predictable, and not particularly inspired. The plot is one of the most predictable I’ve seen in a film in quite some time where every twist is seen coming from a mile away. The climax even revolves around the old trope of our heroes trying to stop a nuclear- type weapon from killing a bunch of people. However, what makes the film work more than it doesn’t is that it delivers when it comes to providing some above-average high-octane action sequences. Director Michael Cuesta knows how to competently stage a fight scene or car chase, but making us buy into this committee-written screenplay and its two-dimensional characters is a feat that eludes him. This is no small achievement when you consider the real-world resonance of a story about crazy people seeking access to nuclear weapons. If anything, this film is very much trying to be of the moment and is undoubtedly picking up on an action film aesthetic that began with 2014’s John Wick and can more recently be seen in Charlize Theron starrer Atomic Blonde. There’s a real bloodiness to the violence (which, in fairness to director Michael Cuesta, is used really effectively in the opening scene of the film) and choreography, though one does wish director Cuesta had opted for a David Leitch style of cinematography consisting of long shots really showing the actors kick ass, rather than the Paul Greengrass style of shaky cam and fast cutting which makes you miss the ‘actual’ fighting that’s going on The film also takes full advantage of its R-rating displaying plenty of brutal and bloody violence including a particular torture scene that even had me wincing. What makes this film worth the trouble is the triad of actors at the story’s core. It seems Dylan O’Brien may have found his calling in an action hero. Matured after his tenure on the TV series Teen Wolf, here O’Brien delivers a solid performance. Despite a more experienced cast around him, O’Brien carries the whole film efficiently. Michael Keaton does his usual thing of being awesome. Shiva Negar looks gorgeous & plays her part well. Taylor Kitsch makes the best of his underwhelming role. Scott Adkins is alright in a small role. Sanaa Lathan also does a fine job. On the whole, ‘American Assassin’ is a predictable yet entertaining entry into the spy thriller subgenre with enough shoot em up action and brutal fight sequences to keep one engaged.
Directed – Michael Cuesta
Rated – R
Run Time – 111 minutes