Reviewed by Daniel Janks: actor, creative director, writer, cynic, father, husband. He was born in 1977 and has still not died. He loves many things, chief among which are his mythic wife and odd girl-child. Visit his website.
Director Michael Cuesta
Writer Stephen Schiff
Cast Dylan O’Brien, Taylor Kitsch, Michael Keaton
AGE RESTRICTION: [R]
It’s got the word assassin in the title. Rest assured it deserves its age restriction.
Hard to figure a fun movie that isn’t very good. This movie isn’t very good. The plot has holes you can drive a planet through (should diving planets ever become a thing), and simple things like interesting characters and interesting plots are sort of skipped. But, having said that the movie is a lot of fun. There are gun battles, and shooting, and people getting shot, a lot. There are explosions and big bangs and things … exploding, a lot. There are a few hot women and a few hot guys and one grizzled old warrior type, so that’s good. It’s lots of fun. But it really isn’t very good.
Vince Flynn is a best selling author known for writing the series of book this movie if taken from. And as such I’d expect a series of movies to follow fast on the footsteps of the first. Hey, if Jason Bourne can do it, why not Mitch Rapp (well there are a few reasons … but I digress). The story follows the beginnings of CIA superagent Mitch Rapp’s humble beginnings as he’s inducted into the CIA’s clandestine black ops teams.
After seeing his fiancé murdered in-front of him by terrorists on an Ibiza beach, Rapp become obsessed with reaping revenge. The CIA soon recruits him and Rapp becomes an American Assassin under the gruff tutelage of veteran wet works operative Stan Hurley. Before long (really it doesn’t take long at all) Rapp and Hurley, plus a sort of good-looking guy and an actually good-looking woman, head off to hunt bad guys.
What happens then is pretty much what you’d expect. The good guys win, the bad guys lose, the hero saves the day, the gruff guy softens and they all live happilly, if moddily (seriously there’s a lot of pouting, sulking and very intense jaw clenching), ever after.
Did I mention the guns, explotions, and good-looking people? Good.
I find Vince Flynn’s books a little one-dimensional. It seems to be a plague among contemporary action novels. Spy thrillers, military stories, anything with an ex-special forces soldier in it. They all seem to think that what the reader wants is pulp action movie stuff: thin stories, shallow characters, trite backstories, predictable narratives. To me they seem the written equivalent of straight to DVD action movies. Again, they can be fun, but fun can only sustain one for so long.
No-where is this more evident than in the book’s or movie’s characters. If we don’t care about the people, then we don’t care about the movie. It’s that simple. Mitch Rapp, played passably by Dylan O’Brien, suffers a huge and horrific loss at the beginning of the film … and that’s kind of it in terms of caring about him. He doesn’t have much of a sense of humour, he doesn’t seem particularly intuitive, or intelligent, or resourceful, or … anything. Oh, sorry, he is very good-looking (although in reality his shaggy haired, American, grunge-hunk thing isn’t really an asset for clandestine special operations. Operatives kind of want to look a little bit more non-descript and … dare I say… ethnic. At least cut your hair so you don’t look like a Cali surf bum).
And unfortunately the other characters are similarly shallow. One of the reasons I was looking forward to this film was because Michael Keaton is in it. He seems, over the last few years, to have been choosing movies very carefully. And delivering stellar performances. Films like Birdman, Spotlight, The Founder could lead one to think that a Michael Keaton movie is going to have some guts and a little depth. Aparrently not. Stan Hurley is your typical mean, cold, stoic son-of-a-b*&#% killing instructor. He is driven, he is capable, he is … um … ja, that’s about it.
I’d talk about the other performances, but I forgot them, so…
Interestingly I don’t totally fault the actors for these disapointing performaces. They really have little to work with in a script that just wants to get to the next gun battle and explotion.
I think I’ve kind of covered vision, or lack thereof. Michael Cuesta seems to have mainly directed TV. There’s some good stuff there, Elementary, Homeland, Dexter, to name a few. But TV directors these days aren’t really visionaries. Showrunners are visionaries, and directors sort of facilitate those visions. This seems evident in Cuesta’s American Assassin, except there’s no showrunner.
Lots of fun if you don’t pay too much attention to plot, character, story arc, or any of that silly stuff. Just enjoy the guns, explosions and pretty people.