Film: American Assassin; Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar
Director: Michael Cuesta; Rating:
The first ten minutes of American Assassin set the tone for the rest to come. And, it is far from good. The film begins with Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) proposing to his girlfriend in Ibiza. After a tearful acceptance by the latter, Mitch heads to the bar for celebratory drinks. His joy is cut short by a group of Islamic terrorists who go on a shooting spree at the resort. They end up killing most of the people holidaying, including his fiancée. 18 months later, Mitch is attempting to convince the leaders of the same group to recruit him for the “cause”. In just a year-and-a-half, he has mastered Arabic, become a trained mixed martial artist, a lethal weapons specialist, and an expert gatherer of intelligence.
The film, up until now, shows us the why but never begins to touch upon the how. Why, you may ask — it’s all about retribution for Mitch; he will not rest till his girlfriend’s killers pay for their misdeeds. It’s the how that is the problem. How did a seemingly average Joe like Mitch master so many varied skills in a mere 18 months? Another question that begs to be asked is how did Mitch manage to escape the initial attack when he witnessed his significant other being gunned down from only a few feet away. Did the terrorists feel a sense of benevolence towards the poor man, and spare his life? This answer is quite simple, really — if they happened to put him away in those early minutes, there would have been no film, to begin with.
If you’re able to sit through a quarter of American Assassin without making a mad dash for the exit, most of you will wish that Mitch’s fate had been different. As all predictable tropes go, the CIA makes a grand entrance soon enough. The agency has been tracking Mitch’s vigilante plan (unbeknownst to anybody, of course), and saves him from the hands of the men he wishes to destroy.
Grateful for having unwittingly brought the agency to the terrorist group’s headquarters, the Deputy Director of the agency gives him a choice – either face charges or work for them. Surprise, surprise! We haven’t heard of anything like this before, surely? The now difficult and unpredictable Mitch is placed in the care of Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a CIA Cold War vet, for training. Stan’s job is to get his young ward ready for a strategic mission to Rome. The two butt heads, as clichés go, while Mitch secretly craves approval from his cold and unfeeling superior.
Michael Keaton has a habit of choosing either brilliant or dreadful projects. It is safe to say that American Assassin will be relegated to the second category. It is one of those films where everything goes wrong, concurrently. The story is threadbare, the editing is mediocre, and the acting doesn’t stand a chance under the circumstances. Many scenes jump from one to the other amidst all the nonsensical action (bullets, bombs, hand-to-hand combat, aircraft carriers — you name it, it’s there), but little thought is given to natural flow or continuity. In this day and age when you have spy thrillers flooding the roster, there needs to be some distinction for them to connect with an audience. Unfortunately, all American Assassin succeeds in doing is making even the subpar films in the genre look really good.