Director: Michael Cuesta
Starring: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar
Dylan O’Brien is best known for his teen friendly roles in the YA genre whether it’s MTV’s Teen Wolf or The Maze Runner franchise. It’s evident that with American Assassin he’s ready to shed that innocent side of him for grittier material. He plays Mitch Rapp, the lead character in a series of books from Vince Flynn. This book was his eleventh in the series but tells the origin story of Rapp. It’s a great starting off point for a potential new action series. It all started on a beach in paradise with Rapp and his girlfriend enjoying a romantic getaway. It’s there where he proposes to her only to have the magical moment taken away by a group of terrorists. They came storming onto the beach with a variety of automatic weapons killing a majority of the tourists including Rapp’s fiancé.
He survived but the death of his loved one instills in him some pent up rage and aggression. He vows to one day get revenge on this group of terrorists. He spends the next few months growing out his beard and working out like a fiend. He has a plan in place but throughout this he is being watched by a covert CIA group in charge of counterterrorism. CIA director Irene Kennedy (Lathan) recruits him to join a special training program headed by Cold War vet Stan Hurley (Keaton). Hurley has zero time for young punks thinking they’re hotshots. His program is only for the toughest and strongest willing to risk their lives every step of the way. Despite being a foot shorter than Hurley’s other recruits, Mitch proves himself to be worthy of the program. A series of violent attacks pop up in connection to some missing Russian plutonium. Hurley and Rapp embark on a mission to stop these attacks, which are traced to a man only known as Ghost (Kitsch).
Sometimes you need a good page-turner filled with enough action and twists to take your mind off real world politics and terrorism. American Assassin does just that if you’re in the mood for the next Tom Clancy (Patriot Games) or Lee Child (Jack Reacher) type of action hero. Vince Flynn has a following especially if you’re from his home state of Minnesota. The movie takes some liberties with the book but keeps the spirit of the characters in tact in order to set up a two or three film franchise if this does well. I lamented with Jack Reacher: Never Go Back that it just felt like a series of running and shooting over and over again with a lack of decent characters and plot. With a title like American Assassin, this film certainly has its running and shooting but sets itself ahead of others in this genre by having fun characters who keep their motivations at the heart of the story. It didn’t completely feel like mindless action for two hours.
Dylan O’Brien isn’t your standard action lead. He’s not the tall beefcake casting choice you would find with the likes of John Cena or Dwayne Johnson. Much of this story finds Mitch Rapp having to prove himself time and time again. He’s very much the everyday guy next door at this point in the story. He’s fueled by the death of his fiancé and is willing to put himself out there in order to impress Hurley. O’Brien keeps Mitch’s conflict ever present, which brings out a level of humanity to the character. This naturally is a conflict in itself according to Hurley who insists that Mitch should never make the job personal.
The Hurley character could easily have been played by a Bruce Willis or Jason Statham type, but Michael Keaton’s casting is a bit unconventional. He’s a knockout in a role we’re not used to seeing from the actor. He’s had a recent string of playing the antagonist with Spider-Man: Homecoming and The Founder. He’s not the token villain here, but he’s not the friendliest of characters. He and Mitch don’t always see eye to eye. You love to hate the character, and Keaton is fantastic at playing both of those sides. He brings that reliable sinister sense of humor to him that makes you laugh despite the heavier tones. Playing the film’s villain is Taylor Kitsch as Ghost. There’s more to Ghost than meets the eye as the film takes some interesting twists and turns throughout. Kitsch is more than capable of going one on one with Keaton in one of the movie’s most gruesome scenes.
American Assassin isn’t afraid to go to some shocking places in order to keep the audience alive. Director Michael Cuesta (Homeland) keeps the movie going at a brisk pace. The film has a surprisingly fresh take on this type of covert ops government-led action thriller. Too often these types feel fairly generic aiming for mindless action. Dylan O’Brien is a hot, young actor who has the potential to take his career in a new direction with more Mitch Rapp movies. I would hope that Michael Keaton is up for more as the chemistry between the two of them makes for a good pairing. This movie is written to appease people like my dad and father-in-law, but I found myself enjoying this testosterone flick just as much as they will.
Is It Worth Your Trip to the Movies? A slick new action franchise that has lots of potential thanks to Keaton and O’Brien
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 TICKET STUBS