By Bradley Griffith
First things first, when it comes the movie “American Assassin” I am completely biased. The book of the same name is one of my favorites. In fact, the entire series of books featuring Mitch Rapp is one of my favorite series of books. Having said that, the movie version of “American Assassin” is, for lack of a better word, awesome.
As the movie opens Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) and his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega) are at a resort in the coastal town of Ibiza, Spain. While swimming in the ocean Mitch proposes and Katrina says yes. Mitch is on his way to the bar to get celebratory drinks when the first shots ring out. Muslim terrorists have invaded the resort and are firing machine guns indiscriminately as people run in every direction. By the time Mitch finds Katrina she has been shot and is dying before his eyes.
Fast-forward 18 months and Mitch is spending his days doing two things: working out and trying to track the terrorists who killed Katrina. Mitch establishes contact with the terrorists in a chat room on an extremist website. He has studied the Koran and knows all the answers to the questions he is asked to prove that he is a devout Muslim and devoted to their cause. Mitch doesn’t know that the CIA is tracking him. He travels to Morocco to meet the jihadists face-to-face. Before he can exact his revenge a U.S. Special Forces team takes out the entire terrorist cell and captures Mitch.
Mitch is interrogated by the CIA, primarily by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), the Deputy Director. She has been watching Mitch and she likes his style and his agenda. She fights for the right to get Mitch included on a black ops team called Orion. The team answers only to Irene and the Director of the CIA.
Before he can join the team, Mitch must pass the training and selection process. Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) makes his appearance as the leader of Orion and the principal trainer of new recruits. Hurley is an aging veteran of many covert wars and his training is intense and merciless. He needs the team to be ready when the need arises to capture a nuclear bomb from a terrorist.
“American Assassin” is more akin to the Jason Bourne series than the James Bond films. Mitch Rapp is more violent than Bond, but less nuanced than Bourne. Picture a Jason Bourne movie with less cloak and dagger and more grit, and you get “American Assassin.”
It’s pretty amazing to watch characters that you have read about for many years come to life on the big screen. While the books were, of course, better, “American Assassin” brings to life the same tone and mission behind the story and the characters. The story is not exactly the same as the book, but it is fairly faithful to the source material.
I didn’t picture Dylan O’Brien at Mitch Rapp, I pictured bigger and stronger. But O’Brien’s performance was great. He brought the same steely-eyed determination (that some may call stubbornness) to get the job done at any cost. Mitch is bent on revenge, refuses to listen to authority, and won’t back down from anyone. Mitch Rapp is an iconic character and O’Brien should be proud of his portrayal of the ruthless assassin.
However, the best acting performance of the movie goes to Michael Keaton. He was spot-on perfect as the grouchy, angry, mean old cuss that is Stan Hurley. While Mitch has all of the physical and mental skills necessary to be a warrior, it’s Stan Hurley’s training that makes him into the deadly weapon that he becomes. Keaton is constantly pushing O’Brien to make him better, stronger, faster, and, most importantly, smarter in the field of combat. The two actors worked very well together.
“American Assassin” has great gun fights, fist fights, and double-crosses. You will enjoy the movie if you have never heard of the books. Most importantly, you will come out the theater with a smile on your face.
• • •
Rated R for strong violence throughout, some torture, language, and brief nudity.