Friday, February 09, 2018

American Assassin: Great Actors Playing Character Chess

Movie Review: American Assassin (2017)
Version: Library borrow

American Assassin is less about being an assassin than it is about being a spy. True, Mitch Rapp intended to assassinate the man responsible for the killing of his fiancée at the beginning of the film. And he goes to the Middle East to accomplish that goal, although after having reached the man he is foiled by the CIA, who kills the man instead. Then Rapp is recruited to become a spy. And so, American Assassin is really a spy thriller. Do you like spy thrillers? Then you should be good to see American Assassin.

Thus, the story morphs from the story of a young man intent on revenge to a young man focused on seeing missions accomplished. He is given over to the mentoring of an experienced ex-SEAL operative, Stan Hurley (played with precision by Michael Keaton), who takes no crap from any snot-nosed kid with no skills. Only, Rapp (played with less skill but with tones of earnestness by Dylan O’Brien) has other, better talents, like passion and drive and self-confidence, which help him get a mission done when others fall back as things go wrong. And plenty of things do go wrong. This puts the two at odds through most of the story, until Hurley gets captured by the bad guys near the end and it’s Rapp who comes to his rescue, Hurley finally giving Rapp his due appreciation. Of course.

There are other characters in this movie, like Rapp’s competitor for the assignment, who is almost immediately killed. Who didn’t see that coming? Or the woman asset in Rome who it seems may be playing for the other side. (I have to admit the DVD froze at that point and advanced to a spot later in the movie, and it wouldn’t let us go back to see what happened in between.) But the heart of the film are the two disparate characters, Rapp and Hurley, forced to work together by their CIA boss. In the end, it’s their combined abilities that helps them save the day, locating a nuclear device that threatens the lives of millions of people (eye roll).

Frankly, I’ve seen more than my fair share of thrillers about terrorists who too easily get their hands on nuclear devices and the thrill comes down to the hero or heroes having just seconds to save the world from devastation. It’s in movies, it’s all over TV, it’s in books. Really, Hollywood, that’s all you’ve got? Really, New York publishers, that’s your best shot?

As a spy thriller, American Assassin has plenty of action. But the locations are just so-so -- they could have occurred in any urban setting and it would have been “seen that before”. The directing and editing are meh. It’s the characters and the actors who play them that drive this movie. O’Brien has been the driving force behind the success of The Maze Runner series and he makes an effort to up his game in this otherwise clichĂ© movie. Keaton is pure Keaton, always fun to watch, whether he’s a likable family man (Mr Mom), a robust hero (Batman and Batman Returns), a down-and-out man looking for his next big break (The Founder), or this ex-Navy SEAL professional struggling make it out alive while trying to save the world. Keaton can turn a facial expression on a dime, from reasonable dude to mean son of a bitch in a second, making his characters pop on the screen as is the case in this film. O’Brien is still learning his craft, but he easily plays a young man eager to take out the bad guys and win at all costs. It’s fun to watch just to see these two guys score the near disaster together.

So the deal here is, don’t watch American Assassin for the assassination, watch it to see O’Brien and Keaton play character chess on the screen. It’s a good watch.

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