Director: Michael Cuesta
Cast: Dylan O'Brien, Michael Keaton, Shiva Negar, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, Charlotte Vega
MPAA Rating: (for strong violence throughout, some torture, language and brief nudity)
Running Time: 1:51
Release Date: 9/15/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | September 14, 2017
The Orion Team of American Assassin is a supposedly elite group of counter-terrorism agents, sanctioned by but basically off the books of the CIA, who hunt down and kill confirmed terrorists and their associates—no questions asked. That is, perhaps, fine as the subject of an action movie, but this one, adapted from Vince Flynn's novel, keeps us questioning the wisdom of this particular group of killers.
The new guy to the team is Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien), which is a name seems like the punch line to a joke involving a team of writers trying to come up with the name of an action hero—one that sounds silly, but just silly enough that only a quarter of the people who hear it will chuckle. Mitch has had a rough go of it recently. His fiancée is killed by a group of terrorists about minute or two after he proposes to her at an exotic but non-specific resort (Considering that every other location in the movie is specified to sometimes amusing detail, one imagines that the filmmakers didn't want to deter tourism from whichever place gave them best tax benefit).
Eighteen months later, Mitch has become fluent in Arabic, has convinced the group that was responsible for the attack that he's a true believer in the cause, and travels to Tripoli to kill the man in charge of the organization. A special ops team beats him to the trigger, though, and after he's taken into custody, Mitch receives an ultimatum from Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), a CIA deputy director of counter-terrorist operations: Join the Orion Team, or face jail time for trying to join a terrorist organization. The nothing-to-lose, ready-to-die, doesn't-care-about-anything Mitch, of course, figures he might as well kill some terrorists, since all the prep work he did for a year and a half went to waste.
Mitch is, to put it kindly, a bit troubled. He is, perhaps, the worst kind of person to put in life-or-death situations involving national security and the possibility of global war. That is especially true in the context of this plot, in which a rogue mercenary known as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) is trying to obtain the materials necessary to construct a nuclear bomb (The movie's contention that only three things are required—some plutonium, a trigger, and a nuclear physicist—is either ludicrous or terrifying, and I'd rather go with the former option at this point in time).
The weird thing is that everyone seems to know this fact, but no one is willing to do anything about it. That might be because they're also mentally unstable.
Take Mitch's new boss Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), the leader of the Orion Team. He repeatedly tells Mitch not to let emotions get in the way of the mission. He repeatedly tells his new recruit this because Mitch repeatedly allows his emotions to get in the way of trying to stop a mercenary and international terrorists from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The examples are too numerous to list but at a certain point, one would imagine that Stan should get the hint that Mitch is a hopeless cause. Maybe he could have figured it out during Mitch's training, when the young, unhinged guy keeps shooting at a photo of the terrorist who killed his fiancée, despite receiving electrical shocks that floor him for doing so.
Stan has some problems, too, although his stem from the fact that he appears to have no capacity for emotions. He comes across as a pure sociopath, with his complete disregard for life—even the lives of the people on his team. We don't quite know the extent of his issues until a late scene in which he's tortured. After having a fingernail ripped off, he shouts that he has nine more, before howling that he loves the experience of pain. Again, these are not exactly the kind of people who should be between the people of the world and nuclear annihilation, and this isn't even mentioning the fact that another semi-member of Orion has a death wish because of a horrible past.
The plan—to construct a team of agents who are in desperate need of some serious psychological evaluation—is tough to swallow. As for the movie itself, well, it's your basic, globe-trotting actioner, filled with chases, bloody gunplay, and a climax that involves a most anti-climactic nuclear explosion (as well as, for some reason, a casual but noticeable disdain for women, although, to be fair, the movie doesn't care for people in general). In this regard, there's nothing particularly special or especially egregious about American Assassin. In regards to its characters, though, the movie is special in an egregious way.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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