Movie Review – ‘American Assassin’ is no ‘Bourne,’ but that’s OK

Maybe it’s my generation, but I wonder what happened to action films? Back in the day, we used to be treated with some incredible action flicks that got your blood pumping. Films like “Die Hard” and “Terminator” really set a tone that lasted for years. Sure they were never perfect, but they just had this great mix of action and story that while mindless truly left you wanting more. I miss that in this current age of superhero flicks that are dominating the conversation. And let’s be honest, as great as “The Avengers” was, it’s not the same kind of enjoyment you had when watching “Speed” for the first time. That’s when you had some truly ruthless bad guys that you could respect based on what they said and not how they looked. I know, different times given how movies have progressed, but it’s for this reason why I can appreciate a film like “American Assassin” so much. It takes you back how it used to be for a genre that has nearly got away from us, so for that, its worthy of seeing no matter what side of the ‘action’ pendulum you might be on.

Considering this film is based on a popular book series by Stephen Schiff, I know there are some that expected more. Figure anytime a book goes to the big screen, there will be some healthy conversations. I just think that sometimes fans get ahead of themselves as far as expectations go. It’s an issue hard to gauge, but one that rears its ugly head when you start reading all the reactions online. I never read the books, so have no stake in the game, but as a fan of just good old-fashioned action, I was fine with this film. Anytime you turn a tragedy into some revenge plot usually works on the big screen and it was no different here. Eighteen months after watching his fiancée get shot and killed on the beach where they were vacationing, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is not in a good place. He can’t sleep and is consumed by revenge, so when given the opportunity to meet his enemy, he jumps all over it. But, when it doesn’t go as planned, he is quickly pulled out by the CIA and given a new opportunity to turn his frustration into action. What a shallow plot, but it works given Mitch’s next stop was on the door step of one Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), former SEAL who was tasked in training guys like Mitch in unconventional warfare. But, when word gets out that some nuclear weapons had gone missing, training is cut short and Hurley’s team was put into play leading to a ridiculous conclusion that while a little over the top, was fun to experience.

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There’s no doubt I would have never even stepped into the theater had Michael Keaton not been involved in this film. As I said, I never read any of the books this story was built from, so Keaton was my reason like many others if they are being honest. But, we were rewarded for it, as Keaton once again managed to show us something new. It might not have been as dynamic as “Birdman,” but it still was fun to watch his own Hurley manage through this choppy script. Keaton just knows what to do in these unique roles and it’s nice to see him grow this late in his career. Just his presence I felt aided a guy like Dylan O’Brien, who some may recognize from his lead role in the “The Maze Runner” series. Here is a guy who I personally have never seen before, but immediately became a fan of after his first scene with Keaton. He expressed a lot of energy and even some depth as the story progressed showing what he is capable of. It was impressive, so it will be interesting to see where he goes in his career after he’s done playing the aforementioned Thomas. And then there was the guy most people reading this won’t know by name, but might recognize his face, Taylor Kitsch. I absolutely love this guy and here he played one of the best bad guys I have seen in a while. Ruthless and often outright mad, Kitsch’s Ghost was a lot of fun to watch leaving me to wonder what we will get from him playing the infamous David Koresh in the upcoming miniseries Waco.

A lot has been said regarding “American Assassin” and how it lacked good pace or a riveting story. And while I can’t ignore those two facts, it was still fairly compelling to watch thanks to the cast and director. Figure anytime you start combining stories for one film, you might get into some trouble, but I think director Michael Cuesta managed it well given what he was working with. Meaning, the rights to Flynn’s book series for film was acquired way back in 2008 and yet here we are in 2017 with the first film. Interesting to see just how long it takes for some of these projects get off the ground in Hollywood, but this will hopefully serve as the beginning for more. Because with a character as dynamic as Rapp, I can only imagine what comes next in this series. Sure, it’s not as engaging as the “Bourne” series, but it really shouldn’t be held to that regard. It’s too early, especially when you figure most people are not as familiar with this character or book series. So while it’s easy to pile on Cuesta, he really helped clean up any deficiencies in just how he filmed some of these action sequences in and out of tight spaces. Again, this film shouldn’t win any style points, but I think if it serves as the base for future installments, there is some optimism to be found.

B-

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