Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Movie Review: American Assassin

The novels by Vince Flynn create a compelling character that hopes to transfer to cinema as some of his other spy predecessors have before. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) has an interesting origin story that is controversial in this day and age and glossed over quite a lot in the film. In a brutal opening scene, Rapp experiences awful tragedy while vacationing on a beach in Spain with his fiancé to whom he just purposed. Terrorists invade the beach and kill his fiancé and shoot him. The story jumps forward 18 months where Rapp is in a dark place, training at MMA and shooting at the gun range. I have only read the first part of the first book but could already spot significant differences that change the tone of the story and make Rapp out to be a little more of a loose cannon than a future secret agent.

Somehow, his odd behavior and fraternizing with terrorists leads him to a cell that the CIA could not find. He is about to attack when a task force swoops him to save him. Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) has been watching Rapp and decided that he would be perfect for a secret program known as Orion. After interrogating him for a few days, she takes him out to a secret training facility in Virginia led by the older spy Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). The major plot starts to develop as nuclear material goes missing and a renegade American spy Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) is seen making mysterious deals. Ghost was trained by Hurley and hold a grudge against his former tutor.

The training sequence is rushed as Rapp confronts another trainee Victor (Scott Adkins) as they tussle in the forest and train in a warehouse using special goggles. The threat of the nuclear bomb grows to the point that Hurley has to deploy his team in the field including Rapp, though he is understandably reluctant after Ghost turned out to be such a rotten apple. The group goes after the seller of a nuclear trigger and the physicist who set it up with the help of another agent, Annika (Shiva Negar) who has been in the field for years. The mission goes haywire when Ghost kills Victor but Rapp disobeys orders and hunts down the seller, learning more about the nefarious plan and capturing the physicist. Hurley is reluctant to share his knowledge even after Ghost ambushes them.

There was a neat little twist with Annika's true identity but it doesn't affect the plot that much. Ghost manages to get the drop on Hurley and there is a great sequence of acting between Kitsch and Keaton as Ghost tortures Hurley. The film follows a pretty generic track with not a ton of surprises. The action is decent enough and equivalent to some of the lesser spy thrillers. O'Brien does a good job with the hand-to-hand combat and the budget doesn't skimp too much on the explosive effects. I would have liked to have seen a car chase but there is a neat fight scene on a boat between Ghost and Rapp.

American Assassin probably won't spark a new franchise with a middling box office on its premiere weekend and I won't be surprised if it drops off rapidly with another more tried and true spy franchise sequel coming onto the scene this upcoming weekend. The story seems a little off and the politics of the Iran nuclear deal seem shortsighted. The logic is a bit of a stretch as well. Still, O'Brien was charismatic enough though he does look a little too similar to Kitsch causing some confusion in dark scenes that switch between the characters. Keaton is back in action and I always enjoy seeing him on the screen. I'd also like to see Sanaa Lathan in more movies though she didn't get to do as much in this story. Shiva Negar was also impressive as a newcomer. American Assassin is enjoyable and I'm glad it introduced me to the writing of Vince Flynn.

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