Movie Review: ‘American Assassin’

Review by James McDonald

When Cold War veteran Stan Hurley takes CIA black ops recruit Mitch Rapp under his wing, they receive an assignment to investigate a wave of random attacks on both military and civilian targets.

The trailer for “American Assassin” could be the trailer for almost any other type of revenge action flick out there, man proposes to longtime girlfriend on a beautiful sandy beach, girlfriend and many innocent people are then murdered by a band of rebel terrorists, boyfriend is wounded, but thankfully, not seriously (otherwise we wouldn’t have a movie), and when he regains his strength, his plan of attack is to infiltrate said terrorist cell and kill them all. That, in a nutshell, is the plot. But what sets it apart from other similar movies of its ilk, is Dylan O’Brien. Casting him as the titular role, was a stroke of genius. Granted, you probably could have put any number of young Hollywood actors in the part and they would have done a good job but O’Brien brings to mind, another well-known assassin, Jason Bourne.

When “The Bourne Identity” came out in 2002, audiences couldn’t get enough of the amnesiac assassin, with his silent but deadly demeanor and fast-paced hands, he was the ultimate action hero. Well Mr. Bourne, be prepared to be dethroned. Mr. O’Brien brings a killer attitude and vengeance-filled agenda with him as he travels the globe tracking down bad guys and creates a new action hero that this reviewer cannot wait to see more of.

While Mitch and his girlfriend Katrina (Charlotte Vega) are vacationing in sunny Spain, he proposes to her on a crowded beach. After accepting, he giddily makes his way back to the bar to order celebratory drinks but before the bartender has time to pour the first drop, gunfire breaks out. With bodies dropping all around him, Mitch is shocked to see a small but deadly band of terrorists storming the beach with machine guns, killing anyone in their path. In the ensuing chaos, Mitch is wounded. He manages to make his way back down to the beach where through the screaming crowds of terrified onlookers, he spots Katrina. They call out to each other, the gunfire and screams muffling the sound but as he nears her, she is struck by a bullet and falls face-first onto the ground. Lying just inches from her, the leader of the group shoots her in the head, point-blank, and casually walks off to kill his next target.

Several months later, Mitch is back in the United States. As he pushes his physical limits in firearms training, MMA, and Judo, he has painstakingly tracked down a recruitment website for ISIS volunteers and informs his handler that he is ready to unleash his wrath on America. He makes his way to the Middle East and is brought to a safe house and tied up, where he is to be interrogated by the group’s leader, the same man who shot and killed his fiancée, to prove his allegiance to them, but before he has a chance to put his plan into action, the cell is ambushed by an elite American squad and all but Mitch are killed.

Once in custody, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), the department head of Black Ops in the CIA, informs him that they have been tracking his every move since he came back to the United States after the death of his fiancée. Irene believes that Mitch has what it takes to be a part of this hand-picked team of soldiers and sends him into the wilderness to Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) who will train him. After proving his worth, he is sent on assignment with Hurley to Turkey, to track down and kill a terrorist cell but when the plan is disrupted by an American called the Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who appears to be working against them, Hurley orders Mitch to stand down and return to the safe house but he ignores him and follows the intended target to their destination. Once there, Mitch uncovers the truth about the American and discovers that he has ties back to Hurley. With the threat of a nuclear bomb in the region, and not knowing who to trust, Mitch must follow his gut instinct if he is to stop the bomb and eliminate the Ghost altogether.

The action is solid and only occasionally lets up, allowing for much-welcomed emotional exposition and character development. The cast is uniformly top-notch, with Keaton and Kitsch excelling as both good guy and bad guy, respectively. But this movie belongs to O’Brien. In the film’s opening, where Mitch’s fiancée is gunned down in front of him, you feel the anger inside of you begin to rise. Director Michael Cuesta puts you in the middle of the action and you find yourself right alongside Mitch, watching helplessly as his one true love takes her final breath. It was the first time in a long time that a scene made me feel exasperation and pure rage, all at once and you then want him to catch all the bad guys and deliver to them, the justice they so deserve.

With Bourne and Bond both feeling a little long in the tooth, O’Brien’s Mitch Rapp makes for a breath of fresh air in a genre that seems to reinvent itself every few years. After starring in “The Maze Runner” and its stellar sequel, “Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials,” O’Brien has more than proved his ability to lead action films but believe me when I tell you, “American Assassin” is one of the best action movies to come out of Hollywood in a long time. I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel. Very highly recommended.

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