Jacob Richardson | 22/09/2017
American Assassin is a loud misfire, characterised by out of place excessive violence and a senseless deviation from the source material that doesn’t pay off.
After he loses his girlfriend in a brutal terrorist attack, mere seconds after he proposes to her, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is filled with a vengeance that manifests itself in an attempt to take down a terrorist cell in Libya. Rapp is saved by by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who thrusts him, and his newly developed martial arts and killing skills, into Stan Hurley’s (Michael Keaton) program for assassins. While Hurley may not like the green Rapp, he enlists his help to take down the mysterious Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), after nuclear material goes missing.
Vince Flynn’s novel, exploring the origin story to the prolific hero of his expansive written series, is a brilliant look back at the makings of a modern day literature hero. It also gives great insight to the ability of certain ‘assassinations’ to have an effect on the operations of Governments and terrorist organisations. In this way, for a spy novel about a stereotypical American spy, it is quite nuanced. Unfortunately, American Assassin director Michael Cuesta (Kill The Messenger) utterly bastardises the story, bludgeoning what was once intricate material into a cookie-cutter spy film that brings new meaning to the term rote.
American Assassin also fails to achieve a consistent tone. O’Brien plays it incredibly po-faced, with enough gusto to deliver some solid action scenes, but his young facial scruff make it incredibly tough to believe his hardened killer persona. In fact, it’s only Keaton who gives a noteworthy performance, delivering some incredibly hammy dialogue with enough knowing relish to make it enjoyable.
This tonal shift also occurs with the gratuitous violence. While most of the scenes are relatively tame, Cuesta dials it up to 10 whenever something violent does occur. This makes certain scenes tremendously affecting (the beach shooting is incredibly immersive for the most part), but for the majority of the movie, it feels out of place and breaks that suspension of disbelief.
American Assassin turns great source material into another paint-by-numbers spy thriller.