a critiQal film review American Assassin (2017)

Plot: Long before he was a terrorist’s worst nightmare and before he was quietly loathed and publicly lauded by the politicians on Capital Hill, CIA super agent Mitch Rapp (O'Brien) was a gifted college athlete without a care in the world, but then tragedy struck. Following this misfortune, Rapp was resurrected from the ashes and recruited to a new life in the nation’s most elite covert operations program. Now he is a man reborn with a mission of retribution.

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When looking for a movie to watch for today’s review, we ran across American Assassin, based on the popular novel by Vince Flynn (which has spawned quite a series of books). I remember reading a bit of this book at one point, but couldn’t remember a whole lot about it. So, it seemed like the perfect time to watch the film.

Would American Assassin be up to snuff? Or would my vague recollections of the book still put the movie version to shame?

Dylan O’Brien stars as Mitch Rapp in American Assassin, and he seems to be a bit miscast. The character is supposed to be this tough guy, and while Dylan goes through the motions, there’s something in his eyes that doesn’t mesh with the storyline. There seems to be a bit of reluctance on his part to go full gusto on the character, and it shows. He seems to be trying to portray a reluctant assassin, rather than the tough hard-as-nails character from the books.

Michael Keaton, on the other hand, seems spot on for his role as Stan Hurley in American Assassin. While he’s not quite the grizzled character from the books, his tough guy turn seems easy for him. He plays his character with a certain relish that will keep viewers tuned in.

The rest of the cast is decent as well. Sanaa Lathan doesn’t get as much screen time as one would expect from the books, but does a decent (if not spectacular) job with what she has. Taylor Kitsch seems a smart fit for his role (and would have been much more believable in the Mitch Rapp role), while Shiva Negar does such a good job she helps make up for Dylan’s shortcomings.

Unfortunately, after the success of The Bourne Identity (2002) and it’s sequels, and Tom Clancy’s novels-turned-films like Patriot Games (1992) (and their imitators), American Assassin doesn’t have that original of a plot. A guy trained to be an assassin? Sounds familiar. A terrorist plot he has to thwart, basically on his own? Yup, seen that before.

While The Bourne Identity (2002) was able to make the story interesting by focusing on a character who doesn’t actually know he’s an assassin, they were able to develop a storyline that centered around the viewer getting to know the character. With American Assassin, they skip that whole getting-to-know-you part and try to create empathy for the character thanks to a tragic event right from the start. It’s a cheap ploy that the viewer has seen a hundred times, and while it still works to an extent, the viewer doesn’t invest as much interest in the character as they used to because of it.

While the book – which doesn’t have that original tragic event in the beginning – was able to get the viewers interested in the character thanks to a mysterious past they don’t reveal immediately, American Assassin instead tries for a more by-the-numbers approach. Thanks to a solid performance by Michael Keaton, who is well backed up by the supporting cast, it goes a long way towards succeeding anyway. But, with that by-the-numbers adaptation combined with a miscast Dylan O’Brien, it doesn’t get much past middle of the road in terms of action thrillers.

Sure, you can do worse with spy action thrillers than American Assassin, but with both the novel and films like The Bourne Identity (2002) available, why bother with middle of the road?

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