American Assassin Review

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Familiar, albeit bloody, spy games kick-start this fledgling franchise.

by Casimir Harlow Sep 15, 2017 at 5:59 AM

  • Movies review


    American Assassin Review

    American Assassin introduces the world to Mitch Rapp, a blend of Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher with a healthy serving of 18-rated violence.

    Based on the 11th entry in a series of books by the late Vince Flynn, American Assassin is, chronologically, the first tale, introducing the everyman character of Mitch Rapp, whose happy world is shattered with a horrific act of terrorism. Taking matters into his own hands, he finds himself crossing paths with an elite team of CIA counter-terrorists who give him little choice but to become one of them, training with their hardened ex-Marine leader but finding it hard not to make things personal every time he's put in the field.
    American Assassin offers up a somewhat unusual origin story for its atypical hero, giving him a strangely visceral motivation which isn't always present in similar tales. It also dishes out some fairly unabashedly brutal violence, which similarly sets it apart from its peers. We may be playing the same spy games as Spooks or Bond, but, even in his latest, pretty hard-edged incarnation, Bond doesn't come close to the kind of head-shot, water-boarding, torture-happy, throat-stabbing that Rapp trades in.

    American Assassin
    Dylan O'Brien makes for a surprisingly tolerable lead, graduating with flying colours from his ill-fated tour on the Maze Runner series, and taking to more adult fare with aplomb. It helps that he's mentored by Michael Keaton's grizzly warrior, a great little tough-guy role for Keaton to add to his recent resume (after the similarly refreshingly physical Spiderman: Homecoming). Even if O'Brien is not required to do much more than look angry all the time, at least they give him reason to be, and give him plenty of time in proximity to Keaton, who proceeds to just chew everything and everybody around him up and spit it out.

    We may have had enough of Bourne but Rapp's just getting started

    There's plenty of action on offer too. Sure, director Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger) has more familiarity with TV fare than big screen action beats, but his tour on Homeland helps give him grounding for the more gritty espionage that's on offer, and he does a competent job for the most part, delivering an only slightly flabby piece which has streaks of decent tension running through it. If the abortive Jack Ryan reboot had been halfway as engaging as this, we would have likely seen more of them, and similarly some of the more brutal violence and harder, no holds barred, edges make you wonder whether they quite literally missed a beat with the Jack Reacher sequel.

    Ultimately, American Assassin will probably lose a lot of points with audience members for its rampant familiarity. The revenge intro may smack of something new, but as soon as the training and then deployment takes place, it's all borderline derivative, recycling ideas from plenty of other, better spy actioners. Bourne alone did it to death - even within its own franchise - so kick-starting a new franchise within this genre is something of an uphill struggle. If you forgive it that familiarity, however, American Assassin is a fun little first round, and, if they maintain the harder violence in the sequel(s) - the 16th book has already been optioned - this might just end up being something special. We may have had enough of Bourne, but Rapp's just getting started.

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