“What is it you think we do here?” asks Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). “Kill people who need to be killed,” answers Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) in the action film based on the number one best-selling novel, American Assassin.
After the tragic death of his fiancée at the hands of terrorists, Mitch Rapp makes it his mission to pose as a radical, up-and-coming terrorist to try to infiltrate the cell of the terrorists who killed her. Rapp’s actions are picked up by the CIA and he’s recruited by Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to train with Cold War Navy Seal Stan Hurley to become a Black Ops agent (aka an assassin). A few months later when 15 kilos of plutonium goes missing, Kennedy assigns Hurley and Rapp to investigate who took it and why. Their only lead is an ex-operative of Hurley’s known as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) who seems to be interested in starting a world war in the Middle East.
Action-packed and with a scene-stealing performance by Michael Keaton, American Assassin is not as original, intense, or as stylish as the Bourne films but is an effective, exciting, and satisfying adventure that’s sure to kick off production on a new film franchise. Dylan O’Brien is a surprising choice to portray Mitch Rapp whose tragic past losses of loved ones has turned the once happy and fairly normal young man into a determined, avenging assassin. O’Brien is physically up for the fights and stunts in the film, but sadly he portrays Rapp as a one-dimensional rage-filled killer who the audience never has a chance to connect with and root for. Hopefully, O’Brien will have the opportunity to flesh out the character in future installments.
Michael Keaton is perfectly cast as the tough, hard-as-nails ex-Navy Seal Hurley who becomes Rapp’s mentor and trainer. Keaton shines in every scene, particularly the early ones as he trains Rapp, along with a handful of other recruits, on what it takes to become a cold and lethal killer devoid of emotion and always putting the mission first. The best scenes in the film are at the assassin training camp. Hurley initially doesn’t believe Rapp has what it takes to be a Black Ops agent and then eventually realizes he’s perfect for the job, and through it all Keaton has solid chemistry with O’Brien. It’s Keaton’s performance that raises the film up to an above average action movie.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the film is in the script, especially the dialogue. It lacks the smart vernacular familiar in spy and covert films, including the Jason Bourne and James Bond movies, and falls back on using too much foul and coarse language. Another disappointing element is the lack of any original or jaw-dropping action scenes. The action scenes are too reminiscent of bigger and bolder action scenes in better movies.
Still, with Keaton’s performance and a decent plot, American Assassin is a crowd-pleasing action-adventure film which should entertain fans of the genre.
Directed By: Michael Cuesta
Running Time: 111 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence throughout, some torture, language and brief nudity
Release Date: September 15, 2017