Movie review: ‘American Assassin’ thrillingly jumps off the pages and onto the screen
Practically from the day it was published, in 2010, “American Assassin,” Vince Flynn’s first novel in what became a series featuring super-CIA agent Mitch Rapp, was destined to be turned into a movie. It had all the right elements: Terrorism, revenge, an unpredictable hero, clashes between that hero and his superiors, protagonists and antagonists with lots of emotional baggage, beautiful women, exotic locales, and a story that never stopped heading off in different directions.
It took many attempts at the script, then finding the right director and the right stars, but the wait was worth it. Sure, hardcore fans of the books are going to be looking for the inevitable changes that come when books get translated to the screen, but the flavor and attitude and most of the story are all there, as are some additions that aid rather than hinder the film.
It kicks off in a happy, carefree mood, with Mitch (Dylan O’Brien) proposing to his girlfriend while vacationing at a beach in Spain, making sure to get her reaction on video with his phone. But happiness turns to horror when, moments later, terrorists attack the resort.
A year and a half goes by, and the film looks in on a Mitch who has gone through more changes than that much-rewritten script. He’s been training, at full tilt, on the gun range, in the gym, and with knives. And he’s been building up a relationship via e-mail communications, all written in Arabic, with someone, or maybe with some group, in Libya where, he posts, he’s ready to go on “vacation.”
As already mentioned, this is a film that involves revenge, specifically involving what went down in the first few minutes and what has been in the planning since then. It’s Mitch’s plan, one that’s so good, so detailed, it’s caught the attention of the CIA, which has been quietly monitoring him for months.
One of the organization’s honchos in counter-terrorism, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), knows a good prospective agent when she sees one, but she also realizes that Mitch is a renegade rather than a team player.
Since this is an espionage thriller, there’s nothing short of a Russian “plutonium situation” rearing its head, and Irene wants the still unaware Mitch to be on her team. He’s brought in, introduced to tough-as-nails agent and trainer-of-agents Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), and the game is on.
Stan is a guy who has a battery of candidates but is looking for the one who can do the job, someone with the right mindset as well as top fighting skills. Mitch, still not knowing what he’s getting into, goes at it with an intensity of his own, but can only agree when, in an accusatory tone, Stan hisses to him, “You only follow orders when they suit you.”
“American Assassin” turns into a battle of wits between these two men, both of whom have darkness inside them, and a study of Mitch being transformed from a vengeful loner to what seems to be a team player.
A mission in Istanbul eventually leads to Rome, and beyond. Though there’s plenty of gunplay, a major portion of the violent action involves down-and-dirty hand-to-hand, MMA-style combat. Another major character, known only as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) brings the story up to an additional level of intrigue. While Keaton owns every scene he’s in, O’Brien (recently in the “Maze Runner” films) shows off some true star power. The camera really likes him, and we’ve rarely seen a character this reckless, skilled, and dangerous onscreen.
There are very few lulls here. The film keeps jumping from one crisis situation to the next, each one escalating into new areas of unexpected violence. It features an insanely exciting climax, with great visual effects accompaniment. And this is just the first of 16 books in the series. More movies will undoubtedly follow.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz; directed by Michael Cuesta
With Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan