15 September 2017 | dave-mcclain
"American Assassin" is a clichéd but entertaining entry into the spy thriller subgenre.
For people all around the world, the September 11th terrorist attacks on the U.S. were very personal. Whether you knew someone who was lost that day, you're an ordinary American whose country was attacked, or you're just a compassionate human being who abhors religious extremism and violence against innocents, you probably remember on that day feeling some combination of anger, fear and sorrow – which you may still feel today. The callous boldness, extreme barbarism and sheer scale of those attacks made anti-terrorism efforts a top priority in law enforcement, homeland security and international relations for the U.S. and for freedom-loving countries and people across the globe.
Many individuals got personally involved in the struggle by joining the military or some other part of the government which fights terrorism – and many more started doing what they could within the confines of their lives, while wishing they could do more. I'm sure plenty of us wished that we were pulling that trigger when Osama Bin Laden finally wound up on the business end of an American rifle – or that we could be a skilled and heroic special operator taking down terrorist cells. It's that kind of desire which we see play out in the 2017 action thriller "American Assassin" (R, 1:51) – a desire that's burning very deeply in the heart of the main character for whom defeating terrorists has become very personal.
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) lost both his parents in a car accident when he was 14, but finally finds happiness in his 20s with his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega), to whom he proposes on a beach in Spain. Moments later, as Mitch is at the bar buying a couple celebratory drinks, Katrina is shot and killed in a terrorist attack. Fast- forward a year and a half. Mitch appears listless, but actually he's bitter – and motivated – and he's been very busy. A few short scenes show us that he has learned to fight and shoot, to speak Arabic and quote from the Koran and to act like a Muslim. Mitch has become a self-appointed one-man counter-terrorism task force, pretending that he's interested in being a suicide bomber so he can infiltrate the terrorist cell run by the man responsible for his fiancé's death and exact his revenge.
Mitch's quest for vengeance doesn't end up quite as he envisioned, but he comes to the attention of CIA counter-terrorism official Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) who says that they "like his agenda". She proposes that Mitch and the CIA help each other. He is reluctant to surrender any of his terrorist-fighting autonomy, but Irene convinces him to get with the program. She takes him to her late father's Seal Team 6 buddy, Stan Hurley (Oscar nominee Michael Keaton), who runs a small, secret counter-terrorism training camp in the woods of northern Virginia. Hurley is tough, skilled and smart. Mitch is all of those things too, but he's also extremely stubborn and impulsive, a rogue among rogues.
Yet, Mitch and Stan have to learn to work together and depend on each other to accomplish a critical new mission. The CIA learns that a former special operator simply called Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), with whom Stan has a problematic history, is shopping around a stolen plutonium core to some pretty bad dudes from Iran. (Apparently, that 2015 American-Iranian nuclear deal is making it tough for the Iranians to get a nuclear weapon
but they still very much want one.) Mitch and Stan travel to Rome, along with another one of Stan's trainees (Scott Atkins) where they all link up with a sexy Turkish agent (Shiva Negar) in an attempt to keep the plutonium out of the hands of Iranian agents who are assembling materials and people to make a nuclear device, which they have specific and imminent plans to use.
"American Assassin" is a clichéd but entertaining entry into the spy thriller subgenre. Michael Keaton's character is accused by another character of being a relic of the Cold War, which sounds about right, because so are the movie's plot points and twists. Still, director Michael Cuesta (director and producer of numerous TV series, including "Homeland" and "Dexter") and screenwriters Stephen Schiff (TV's "The Americans"), Michael Finch ("Hitman: Agent 47") and writing partners Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz (who co-wrote "Jack Reacher: Never Go Back", "The Last Samurai" and several other movies and shows) breathe new life into those tried and true spy movie tropes by giving this story a modern spin to which most Movie Fans can relate, at least on some level. Keaton is appropriately bad- ass, O'Brien is charismatic and exciting to watch, Negar is as deadly as she is beautiful and Kitsch makes a great villain. Also, Lathan does a fine job as the "M" to O'Brien's young James Bond character type. Good things all. Not just for the sake of this movie, but for the sake of the forthcoming franchise which this movie heralds. Based on the 11th novel (but first chronologically) in late author Vince Flynn's Mitch Rapp series, "American Assassin" gets the film series off to an unspectacular, but solid start. "B+"