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American Assassin (2017)

Dylan O’Brien continues his run as a leading man in the screen adaptation of the first novel in Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series. 
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Recap

Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is a well educated, physically capable young man. Minutes after proposing to his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega), the beach they are on is attacked by terrorists. Mitch and Katrina are both gunned down and left for dead. However, Mitch survives and dedicates his life to trying to infiltrate the terror cell that attacked them and take out their leader. During this time, Mitch is depicted as being overly aggressive and single minded in his pursuits. His efforts do pay off and he’s eventually brought face to face with his target. However, before he can get his revenge, a CIA team breaches the compound and kills the man and extracts Mitch.

Mitch ups face-to-face with CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). Her plan is to use Mitch’s agenda and penchant for violence to help the CIA take out terror cells. She enlists him as a member of a black-ops group run by grizzled veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). Hurley tries to impart to Mitch the importance of sticking to a mission instead of going off book and trying to take everyone down by himself. Hurley also pokes at a lot of Mitch’s sore spots, specifically his emotional attachment to the day that Katrina was killed. There is a constant debate between Irene and Hurley about whether or not Mitch’s tendency to go off on his own makes him an asset or a liability.

While training Mitch and the current black-ops group, Hurley discovers that one of his former trainees has resurfaced after being left for dead on a mission. The man, referred to primarily as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), has resurfaced and seems to be helping a middle eastern power build a nuclear weapon. With his old protege resurfacing, Hurley is forced to take Mitch into the field to try to stop him, but neglects to tell anyone who Ghost is despite Mitch pretty consistently asking him what the connection is. They are joined in this mission by another agent, Annika (Shiva Negar).

After Annika and Mitch are almost captured by Ghost, Mitch begins to suspect that there is a double agent. It turns out that he is kind of right. Annika is actually a Mossad agent, who also wants revenge on those who are trying to build the bomb. When Hurley is captured by Ghost, Annika and Mitch ignore their orders and race off to save Hurley and stop Ghost. While he’s being tortured by Ghost, Hurley discovers that his true objective is to steal the bomb and use it to get revenge on the U.S. by attacking a fleet off the coast. When Mitch and Annika arrive, they manage to save Hurley and chase Ghost to a boat, where Mitch kills him before dropping the bomb in the water and saving lots of lives.

In the aftermath of the event, Mitch has gone dark, with no one having a true idea where he is. When Irene goes to visit Hurley in his rehab, they talk about Mitch before both getting a panicked look as they realize that he last known location puts him very close to a corrupt middle eastern official. The camera cuts to that official getting into an elevator with an unassuming Mitch Rapp waiting for him.

Other Stuff

  • Sanaa Lathan, who plays Irene Kennedy, may sound familiar to some people. She is the voice of Donna Tubbs in the Family Guy / Cleveland Show cartoons.
  • “American Assassin” is the title of the first novel in the “Mitch Rapp” series of books written by Vince Flynn. To date, there are 16 of these novels. The most recent being “Enemy of the State” released in 2017. So, if you wanna get more of this story, there’s plenty of it out there.
  • This is the 3rd major property where Dylan O’Brien has led the role as the male lead. The other two are MTV’s now completed series, Teen Wolf (2011-2017) and the currently running movie Maze Runner movie series.

What did I think?

Well, from a story standpoint, this really felt like a quick and dirty production of a hyper-violent spy movie. Even though I tried to keep the recap short, it really didn’t feel like there was much more to the movie than what’s in that recap. The story is a pretty standard set-up for a spy movie. There’s an ex-spy who’s gotten his hands on a weapon of mass destruction and they plan on using it to take revenge on the organization they used to work for.

Most of the characters are pretty one-dimensional. Mitch and Anika are both primarily motivated by revenge. The only aspect of Mitch’s character that really gets expounded on is just how single-minded he is in his pursuit of revenge.  Hurley is a stereotypical battle hardened fighter. Most of the other characters don’t matter much at all. Amazingly, even in a movie with this little character development, the villain (Ghost) feels even less developed. We know that he’s some kind of ex-agent out for revenge but, in an attempt to make him mysterious, it’s like the movie forgot to make him a character.

So, if the characters aren’t that well developed and the story is fairly straight forward, is there anything redeeming value in the movie. I would actually say “yes”.

It’s going to sound kind of strange to say this, but I really liked the way the terrorist massacre on the beach was shot. With a scene like that, it could be very easy to try to shave off some of the rough edges and make it easier to watch. It could’ve been done in a way in which the horror of the event was simply implied instead of shown, but they chose to show quite a bit of it. The way people’s bodies reacted to getting shot, the haze of combat washing over the perspective of Mitch, and actually seeing characters that we had just had a really beautiful moment get shot; all of it came together in a sequence that succinctly expressed a moment that could really change a person.

Outside of just that scene, the violence in this movie has a very visceral kind of feel to it. Even though Mitch’s fighting style is what I would describe as resembling a really angry spider monkey, it’s still shot in such a way that really communicates his intention to do harm to the people he’s attacking. It’s not just Mitch’s scenes either. The scenes with Ghost and Hurley kept the same feeling that leaves you right on the verge of wanting to look away.

Now, having said all that, it’s hard to say that visceral violence is a good enough reason to enjoy a movie. It’s a part of the movie that was pretty well done. Outside of that, the movie’s not much more than a cheap adrenaline ride. There’s not a lot of character or story to dig into. Now, if you’re a fan of the book series, this may not be the case but, I can’t take that into account. On just the merits of the movie, there’s not really much here.

American Assassin (2017)

American Assassin (2017)
5.96

Plot / Story

4/10

    Characters

    5/10

      Visuals

      8/10

        Music / Audio

        5/10

          Entertainment

          8/10

            Pros

            • Decent performances from Keatn and O'Brien
            • Very well shot, visceral violence

            Cons

            • Run of the mill spy movie when it comes to the plot
            • Characters are either underdeveloped or one dimensional
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