American Assassin (2017)

  • Time: 111 min
  • Genre: Action | Thriller
  • Director: Michael Cuesta
  • Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan


Twenty three-year-old Mitch lost his parents to a tragic car accident at the age of fourteen, and his girlfriend to a terrorist attack just as they were engaged. Seeking revenge, he is enlisted by CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy as a black ops recruit. Kennedy then assigns Cold War veteran Stan Hurley to train Mitch. Together they will later on investigate a wave of apparently random attacks on military and civilian targets. The discovery of a pattern in the violence leads them to a joint mission with a lethal Turkish agent to stop a mysterious operative intent on starting a world war in the Middle East.


  • Punches are thrown, bullets are unloaded, a murky plot conforms, and bloodletting is a mainstay in 2017’s American Assassin (my latest review).

    The story of “Assassin” chronicles Mitch Rapp (played by Dylan O’Brien). After Mitch loses his parents and his girlfriend gets murdered on a beach in Ibiza, Spain, he decides to go after the maligned terrorists who committed said murder. Rapp first goes out on his own to acquire vengeance until he is swallowed up by U.S. Special Forces. They eventually recruit him and he gets trained by an icy black ops dude in Stan Hurley (played by Michael Keaton).

    Now with American Assassin, we’ve seen this all before. The techno thriller, the slick thriller, the CIA thriller, the locale thriller. “Assassin” has these attributes and has them with bells on. You watch this film hoping that it’s not routine. In the end though, American Assassin is The Gunman, The November Man, The Bourne Identity, Paranoia, The Recruit, and 3 Days to Kill all thrown into a high- powered blender.

    Sure there’s a brisk pace to all of it, the violence invariably spills onto the screen, and a cool nuclear explosion straight out of Deep Impact arises. But “Assassin” has action sequences that have fits and starts. There’s never a true sense of excitement or rooting involvement.

    Anyway, American Assassin is taken from a novel but it doesn’t appear as such. Instead, this flick is overly commercial, has a loud, “popcorn” feel to it, and has a real preposterous indignation from the get-go. The Age of Innocence (1993), The English Patient (1996), and The Firm (1993) are all movies that are based on books. “Assassin” doesn’t quite harbor that same vibe if you know what I mean.

    As for the actors in American Assassin, well some are miscast (Sanaa Lathan as a Deputy Director), some have the physicality but you don’t really root for them (Dylan O’Brien), and some come off as standard in the villain department (yes I’m talking about Taylor Kitsch). The one guy who rises above “Assassin’s” regimented material is Michael Keaton.

    Heck, it seems like a lifetime ago when Keaton took on comedic roles. Now he has officially morphed into the quintessential bad-ass. With a closed-off persona, a lack of empathy, and a ruthlessly provoked nature, he’s the best reason to see “Assassin”. In one concluding scene, Michael’s Stan bites the ear off a bad guy and then spits it right back at him. Billy “Blaze”, we hardly knew ya.

    In conclusion, American Assassin is directed by Michael Cuesta. He created a wonderful character study with Jeremy Renner in 2014’s Kill the Messenger. Cuesta needs to get back to that kind of textured filmmaking because “Assassin” comes really close to “shooting” itself in the foot. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

    Check out other reviews on my blog:

  • Preposterous and derivative yet slick and reasonably satisfying, American Assassin does (further) prove three things to be true: director Michael Cuesta’s skill at staging impressive set pieces, Dylan O’Brien’s viability as a leading man, and that Michael Keaton is an invaluable asset to any film in which he appears.

    Based on the first book in the Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn, the political action thriller begins on the sandy beaches of Spain where Mitch (O’Brien) is holidaying with his girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega). Minutes after he proposes, the beach is overrun by machine gun-toting Muslim terrorists who leave the resort and sands with bloodied corpses, including Katrina’s. Eighteen months later, haunted by grief and driven by vengeance, Mitch has taken matters into his own hands, honing himself into a killing machine well-versed in marksmanship and martial arts so he can infiltrate the terrorist cell responsible for Katrina’s death. What Mitch doesn’t realise is that his pursuits have caught the eye of CIA counterterrorism chief Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), who has been surveilling him for six months.

    Irene believes that Mitch is a perfect candidate for an elite black-ops team codenamed Orion, though CIA director Thomas Stansfield (David Suchet) is concerned over Mitch’s recklessness, non-compliance, and psychological profile. Those same qualities pique the interest of Stan Hurley (Keaton), the ex-Navy SEAL who heads up Orion and who served in combat with Irene’s father. Put through various training scenarios, Mitch displays a disregard that is both admirable and deadly such as when he allows himself to be repeatedly electroshocked during a VR training run because he lets himself be ruled by his emotions. “Never let it get personal,” barks Stan as they set off for Mitch’s first mission, which involves tracking down some weapons grade plutonium that is sure to land in some very wrong hands.

    It’s no surprise that not only do things get very personal for Mitch, but they also get mighty personal for Stan, who discovers that a former protege he believed to be dead is very much alive and now working as a mercenary by the name of Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). Screenwriters Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz don’t do enough to either exploit or explore the dynamics between Mitch and Stan, Stan and Ghost, and Ghost and Mitch. These are the best, most engaging moments of American Assassin and are filled with personal and political provocations that are never more than superficially touched upon. The inevitable face-to-face confrontation between Stan and Ghost, for example, is made all the more riveting because of the emotional beats that both Keaton and Kitsch provide.

    Nevertheless, the film’s shortcomings don’t deter from the overall enjoyment of the film. Lathan and Shiva Negar (as a Turkish agent) provide excellent support and Cuesta orchestrates several nifty and thrilling action sequences with the help of Enrique Chediak’s dynamic camerawork and Conrad Buff’s seamless and emphatic editing. The climactic showdown is an especial highlight, with a speedboat, helicopter and the U.S. fleet amongst those in peril.

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