American Assassin review: Fight without substance

Still from the movie American Assassin

Still from the movie American Assassin   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


This unnecessarily violent spy-thriller makes America the centre of the universe

Twenty-three year old Mitch Rapp (Star of MTV series Teen Wolf, Dylan O'Brien) proposes to his girlfriend while swimming in the ocean. Predictably, she says yes, and he darts off to the coast to get her a celebratory drink. There enters a group of bearded men (indicatively Muslim) who open fire at the beach, killing dozens of people. Mitch’s girlfriend is one of them, thus starting off a film that’s deeply problematic in its portrayal of terrorism and world politics.

After the attack, Mitch becomes a self-taught spy, who is too aggressive and angry to be fully tamed by the CIA’s counter-terrorism task force. He wants revenge, and that inadvertently involves shooting down Muslim ‘terrorists’, who speak Arabic and want to kill the Jews. American Assassin takes place in Malta, Ibiza, Istanbul, Tripoli, Romania, Roanoke and Rome, but is so U.S.- centric that it appears smug and ignorant. The American gaze is most evident when the characters enter Istanbul. The cosmopolitan and vibrant Turkish city is painted as an exotic destination drenched in Oriental embellishments and stereotypes. Russians - as usual in Hollywood - are vilified indiscriminately.

American Assassin
  • Director: Michael Cuesta
  • Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar and Taylor Kitsch
  • Storyline: An angry spy on the prowl for evil men

Based on Vince Flynn's 2010 novel of the same name, American Assassin’s script is so scattered that it loses the audience at several points, despite being a fairly easy story to tell. Michael Keaton as ex-Navy SEAL, Stan Hurley, who trains Mitch, doesn’t trust his student entirely since he reminds him of his deranged protégé, “Ghost” (Taylor Kitsch). The Kung Fu Panda (2008) student-turns-against-the-master storyline in American Assassin gets unexpectedly, and at some points unbearably, violent. Hurley manages to put up a convincing fight as a Cold War veteran but Kitsch goes completely bonkers with a uranium bomb, flinging it around like a toy. O'Brien broods his way through the film, coming across more as a vengeful lover than a sly undercover spy. He shoots and slits throats like there is no tomorrow and no one is watching, even in touristy areas of Rome.

The film is evidently made for the bros, with fight scenes, crashes, gun shots, beautiful women and undercover spies. But American Assassin could have taken Mitch Rapp beyond the hot-headed version of Bond and Bourne, and instead carved out a fresh, youthful niche in the American spy genre, one for the millennials.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2020 11:26:37 AM |

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