AMERICAN ASSASSIN (2017) is my surprise thrill of the summer, and not just because I knew nothing about it. I went into it completely blind, with only the understanding that Michael Keaton was in it. Usually, that’s good enough for me.
Mitch Rap (Dylan O’Brien) is a broken man. After enduring a devastating personal loss, he trains hard and deliberately places himself in danger to settle a vendetta. He’s rescued by a CIA (Sanaa Lathan) who want to use his self-taught fighting skills and ability to think on his feet to stop a potential nuclear crisis. Mitch is placed into the training guardianship of seasoned vet Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) to retrieve the package from rogue operative Ghost (Taylor Kitch) and save the world from annihilation. This wouldn’t be a thriller without Mitch going off script and the package being lost a few times, but that’s where this movie finds its pulse. Saying any more takes the teeth out of experiencing this movie first hand, so I’ll leave the synopsis there. It has to unfold on its own and be experienced first hand.
The fighting in this film feels brutal and real, and for a shoot-em-up spy thriller, nothing comes off as over the top. There’s no drawn out exposition and info-dumps are non-existent. Based on the novel American Assassin (2011 Pocket Books), neither the source material nor the movie takes their audiences for idiots. We’re all adults here, and it’s understood you know what terrorism is and how shadow organizations work. You won’t need your hand held and you won’t need to be walked through scenario after scenario to be comfortable. This movie isn’t about your comfort level – at all. You don’t need extensive character studies to understand anyone’s motivations because those things are revealed through the characters’ actions – who knew?
There isn’t a weak or shallow character in this bunch. O’Brien’s Mitch is a hot-headed lone-wolf and his single-mindedness wrapped around his sense of loyalty and duty keep him from becoming just another sociopath with a gun. Keaton’s Hurley knows the business and knows when to cut his losses, but he hasn’t counted on Mitch disregarding every order he’s given for his own chance to complete the mission. It’s also nice to have the seasoned been-there, done-that character like Hurley not be a raging alcoholic or suffer from any of those cliche character flaws commonly used to “humanize” the military. Embedded agent, Annika (Shiva Negar) is no wilting flower – providing the kind of backup and support you completely expect from a fellow agent. Better – she’s not just window dressing for the action going on around her.
There are 16 Mitch Rapp novels, with the first 13 written by Vince Flynn and the last three (including Enemy of the State released September 2017), written by Kyle MIlls. If we’re very, very lucky, we’ll see a well-planned franchise emerge with Hurley and Rapp pulling countries’ asses out of the fire for no more glory than a few months recuperation in a military hospital.
AMERICAN ASSASSIN is Rated R for violence, torture, lots of people getting shot in the head, brief mistress boobs, and the white knuckle terror of a pending nuclear holocaust.