American Assassin – Film Review (2017)
Adam reviews American Assassin the new Action Thriller directed by Michael Cuesta and starring Michael Keaton, Dylan O’Brien, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, Scott Adkins and Taylor Kitsch
American Assassin is rare treat for fans of the action genre; a hard R-Rated action thriller. One that crafts intriguing characters set upon a world stage of Counter-terrorism. Expertly directed, staged and crafted for a mature audience wanting more impact than Bourne or Bond have to offer in their sanitary PG-13 worlds. Based on the long running Mitch Rapp series by novelist Vince Flynn, the film is adapted from the 2010 prequel novel of the same name updated for our modern uncertain times.
Director Michael Cuesta and screenwriters Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz aligning us with Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) quickly. After a tragedy Mitch heads down a violent path that leads to the attention of Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), the deputy director of counter terrorism at the CIA (that’s a lot of say). Giving Mitch a chance to prove that underneath his volatile nature beats the heart of a true warrior. Under the harsh tutelage of Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) Mitch begins to realize his potential but not before they are both thrown into a situation on the global stage that has life and death consequences to the world at large.
Casting the 26 year old O’Brien in the lead proves to be a huge success and asset for American Assassin. O’Brien proves to be a very creditable and skilled action lead handling everything thrown at him with grace and aplomb. There’s a feral wiry quality rather than a hulking one to O’Brien’s frame and movement. His Mitch Rapp is compact and fast; an apex predator with nightmarish instincts. It gives Rapp a wounded dangerous against-the-odds mentality that instantly has you root for the character.
Even those familiar with O’Brien’s work in The Maze Runner series will be shocked at the gravitas and maturity he brings to this role. Beyond the action, O’Brien proves himself worthy by being able to stand toe to toe with the heavyweights casted in supporting roles. Specifically, O’Brien shines while matching wits with Keaton, Lathan, Scott Adkins (in a great supporting role) and newly minted bad guy du jour Taylor Kitsch.
The film gives many what they’ve wanted from Michael Keaton for years (at least those who have not seen Desperate Measures); in full-on dark action hero mode. American Assassin does not disappoint, giving Keaton some of the juiciest bits of machismo posturing of his career. As Hurley the harsh mentor to Rapp, Keaton is cast of iron. Cuesta and cinematographer Enrique Chediak shoot Keaton like a late career Lee Marvin. They allow him to use every single age line and crack in the visage of stone for maximum effect. In his hands Hurley’s harsh tutelage is what is needed to get through the wall of anger that is younger assassin-in-training. The film understands the dynamic at play with giving us enough Keaton but never overstaying his welcome to overshadow O’Brien. Keaton as an actor and the character serves the same role for O’Brien/Rapp.
There are some moments that will shock viewers. One scene in particular needs mentioning between O’Brien and Shiva Negar’s Annika. The second act moment between the actors could be taken by some as unnecessary but given the film’s nature it feels not salacious but a part of the fabric of the film. Negar’s work here is both strong and pleasantly non-sexualized. Many spy films want to make its female characters trophies, conquests for their lead males. American Assassin smartly avoids that tried troupe. Negar’s work as a hard bitten spy is refreshing changes of pace for the female lead in the genre.
Lathan’s work as the no nonsense CIA director Kennedy is great. Those familiar with Lathan’s work will find her role as a tough-as-nails highly capable political mover a welcome surprise. The same goes for fans of Taylor Kitsch. The actor may officially be out of film jail with the stellar turn the icy operative “Ghost”. The work is a welcome change from the insert stereotyped Middle Eastern bad guy. Kitsch plays “Ghost” with a duality mirroring O’Brien’s Rapp, two sides of the same coin. It leads to some great showdowns between not only O’Brien but Keaton and Scott Adkins whose supporting role is a welcome surprise for any true blue B-Movie Geeks.
American Assassin is the real deal; a great Action film debut for star Dylan O’Brien. The hard R-Rating gives the film a visceral thrill above your normal PG-13 Spy Thriller. Supporting work by Keaton and Company keep this above and beyond your bloated $150 million vanilla entries into the genre. Don’t miss this one; it’ll have you dead to rights.