American Assassin

The effects of terrorism permeate our lives. From network news to newspapers to social media, the impact of the acts of terrorists manages to invade and influence our daily life. The hope is that our government agencies are doing something to counter these atrocious forms of protest, even if it meant by violent methods. This reign of terror is the world that American Assassin inhabits and like all of the assassin tales from the past it involves bucket loads of action and bloodshed.

After a terrorist attack that saw his fiance murdered on the beaches of Spain, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) decides to bring the terrorists responsible to justice. He goes through the training in hand to hand combat, learns the language of the enemy and trains in all forms of weapons. During his independent skills development, he does not realise that the Central Intelligence Agency is observing him. When he finally puts his training to the test and gets into proximity of his target of revenge, the agency intervenes. They save his life and warn him against his vigilante ways but do offer him a position in their special operatives programme. Mitch takes up this challenge and begins his training under the tutelage of the hard-nosed military trainer Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), who does not believe in the young recruit at first. Then the government agency is put to the test by a rogue agent who is helping to acquire nuclear arms for Iran, which puts Rapp, Hurley and the programme on notice. Mitch must quickly prove his worth to Hurley and the agency.

Revenge is a key motivator for any story of espionage and proves to be a driving force behind Michael Cuesta’s (Kill the Messenger) adaptation of the popular Vince Flynn novel. He quickly introduces the justification behind the fury that pushes Dylan O’Brien’s character to develop a singular purpose of bringing a violent end to his targets. Even though this narrative vehicle has a proven track record it becomes the weakness of this film’s storyline. This level of anger and vengeance can only inspire an audience for so long.

O’Brien manages to represent the brooding millennial successfully, but his intensity cannot make up for a pedestrian script and predictable outcomes of the characters. For the action aficionado, this outing provides a well-choreographed offering, but the dialogue is reminiscent of an airport paperback novel.  The writing benefits from quite a bit of muscle power, but fails to challenge too many brain cells. The effort by Michael Keaton and the rest of the cast to salvage the script by delivering above average performances is admirable, but they cannot get past the weak storyline. Especially the convoluted conclusion that takes things from a generic assassin film into a ridiculous realm that make the James Bond films of the 80s seem Oscar worthy.

American Assassin will have an appeal to the action and espionage fan but is reminiscent of the espionage tales that precede it. The cast tries to lift this run-of-the-mill storyline out of the mundane, but only manage to raise it to be average at best.

REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film? 

Bringing forth justice can be a challenge for anyone, but in the case of world politics, it moves to an entirely different level. Behind the action in this film, Deputy Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) was being put into incredibly difficult situations. Her character was forced to make decisions that not only affected the lives of the people around her but the people of the world.

Like the decisions of Director Kennedy, to categorise them into one area is difficult. They usually contain moral, human, ethical and philosophical aspects that have to be weighed out internal and collectively. Where can people find the core to many of life’s bigger challenges? Interestingly, the Bible gives answers to most of the human decisions in American Assassin, when it comes to this area of life, God’s Word might be worth a look.

1. Can we find truth in this world? (John 14:6, 1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

2. Can we ever find justice? (Proverbs 21:15, Romans 12:19)

3. Is revenge ever justified? (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Peter 3:9)

Trailer for the film

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Russell Matthews

Russell loves film and enjoys engaging in discussions about the latest cinema offerings and then connecting this with the Gospel. He has worked for City Bible Forum for over 10 years, is a reviewer for Insights Magazine and Entertainment Fuse and has a blog called Russelling Reviews. He moderates events for Reel Dialogue which connect the film industry with the general public.