Review by Gordon Justesen
O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Shiva Negar, David Suchet, Navid Negahban,
Scott Adkins, Taylor Kitsch
Director: Michael Cuesta
Audio: Dolby Atmos
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Features: See Review
Length: 112 Minutes
Release Date: December 5, 2017
“What you think? You’re gonna jump from cell to cell taking out terrorists?”
“For starters, yeah.”
In a year that gave us such thrilling action movie spectacles such as John Wick Chapter 2 and Atomic Blonde, pretty much any other offering in the genre would seem like a lesser effort. But American Assassin has so much talent in front of and behind the camera, that the final result should have at least ended up in the same league as the two aforementioned movies. Instead, it aspires to be nothing more than generic action movie fare that would’ve been right at home with Cannon Films in the 80s, along with the dreadful Taken sequels.
It is competently made enough and has a few good action bits in it. However, the end result feels as though a triple dose of JB (James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer) were thrown into a blender and somehow managed to come out completely bland. How does such a thing happen?
The film comes from a series of popular novels by author Vince Flynn, who has since passed on. The screenplay adaptation comes courtesy of four screen writing veterans, one of which is the much talented Edward Zwick. Again, this is something that should have been of far better quality than what was presented.
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is a broken man. He had just proposed to his girlfriend on a beach in Spain during vacation that was interrupted by a terrorist attack in which his bride to be was a casualty. Eighteen months later, Mitch, with absolutely no military training, has taken upon himself to track down and take out various terrorist groups.
Naturally, this captures the attention of the CIA. The agency’s deputy director, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) sees potential in Mitch and recruits him for a secret assassin training program. And running this program is Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton).
The training sequences are easily the most entertaining parts of the film, including a very neat display of VR target practice. And the movie is highlighted by an intensely committed performance by Keaton. You instantly buy him as a no-nonsense skill-set instructor who will tear you a new one if you don’t follow orders.
On the downside though, the two other pivotal players in the movie don’t strike equal marks. Dylan O’Brien, who I have enjoyed very much in The Maze Runner movies, lacks charisma in the title role to the point that it’s actually hard to root for him. And Taylor Kitsch, an actor I’ve really enjoyed in just about everything I’ve seen him in, brings nothing to the table in his role as a villainous former agent who’s now gone rogue and is plotting essentially the same evil threat you’ve seen in every season of 24.
To sum it up, American Assassin is about as generic as a movie of this type gets. Even if you're a sucker for this kind of fare, you'll be lucky if you even remember a single frame five minutes after watching it, with the exception of Keaton's work. You’re much better off binge watching Bond, Bourne or Bauer instead.
The 4K offering from Lionsgate isn’t too shabby by any means, though. The immersive detail of the Ultra HD picture draws you into the action even more (the VR training sequence really shows off amazingly), and the various locations appear much more authentic as a result too!
The Dolby Atmos sound mix is, to say the least, EXPLOSIVE! Right from the opening sequence, the action is non stop not just in the way of gunfire and explosions, which is brilliantly captured, but music playback and atmospheric sounds, all of which balances out great with the dialogue delivery!
Lionsgate has appeared to have taken things a step further by including all of the extras on the 4K disc in addition to the regular Blu-ray disc. Included are various featurettes, including “Target Acquired: Creating American Assassin”, “Finding Mitch Rapp: Dylan O’Brien”, “Transfer of Power: Hurley and Ghost” “Weaponized: Training and Stunts”, “In the Field: Locations” and a lengthy Alamo Drafthouse Q&A with actors Dylan O’Brien and Taylor Kitsch.
If it’s an old fashioned piece of action fare that you crave, I can’t say that American Assassin will disappoint. However, there have been much better offerings in the genre this year alone when compared to this run of the mill good guys vs. terrorists pic. Michael Keaton is rockin it here, and that’s all the movie has going for it.