Dylan O’Brien takes a big step forward with his intense new action thriller American Assassin, which is one hell of an adrenaline rush and proves that this young actor can play with the big guns.
After losing his fiancee in a horrific and brutal terrorist attack, young college student Mitch Rapp (O’Brien) finds his life irreversibly changed forever. Giving up everything he devotes himself to hunting down the terrorist masterminds behind it. But his plans take a side route when he is recruited by a speciality CIA training school run by legendary Cold War warrior Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) and Rapp is moulded into a lethal operative. Now remade as a perfect weapon, Rapp finds his mettle tested as he is tasked to stop a rogue operative codenamed ‘Ghost’ (Taylor Kitsch) before he can unleash a nuclear holocaust.
If you think American Assassin is just your run of the mill, cliched action film, well, your very, very wrong. Instead, director Michael Cuesta takes Vince Flynn’s intense source material and runs with it, producing a thriller that really plays up every nail-biting second and delivers action scenes that are particularly gnarly. Flynn’s Rapp series has a reputation for being in-your-face reads which don’t hold back on the violence, or his staunch Republicanism, and the movie reflects this brilliantly.
In making this film, Cuesta has approached the filming with realism in mind, and this leads to some particularly violent moments as O’Brien’s Rapp takes his targets apart with military efficiency. None of the action is wasted and the film’s stunt and fight choreography team throw in tonnes of material that make Rapp’s actions believable. His style of combat is a mashup of Krav Maga by way of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and our hero has no hesitation about going straight for the jugular or overdoing it with his knife work to get the job done. The film has a hard edge to it, and it really works in its favour, without it, frankly, it wouldn’t be true to the spirit and flavour of the Mitch Rapp series.
Young star Dylan O’Brien really steps up to the plate and throws himself headfirst into the action as Mitch Rapp. In mere moments he goes from a fun loving All-American college boy to that of an obsessed and brutal terrorist hunter. O’Brien is consumed by rage and unleashes it on his adversaries, or anyone who gets in his way, with very violent repercussions. This switch in emotional range combined with his physical transformation into a that of muscled-up tough guy makes for a worthy new action hero.
Every hero needs a mentor and O’Brien’s Rapp finds his in Michael Keaton’s Stan Hurley. Hurley is a former Navy SEAL and Black Ops assassin who learned his trade during the Cold War and who is in charge of overseeing the CIA’s brutal O’Reilly Program training school. Keaton plays Hurley as the ultimate hard ass, a man who has seen it all and who is unimpressed by Rapp’s emotionally-charged vigilantism. But as the film progresses a sense of respect grows between the two of them. This type of character is a rarity for Keaton, but he really makes a great go of it. His performance is authentic and I’d love to see him return to the role of Hurley in possible sequels.
Finishing out the main cast is Taylor Kitsch as rogue mercenary ‘Ghost’. Everyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Kitsch fan and I really relished seeing him fall to the dark side. His character is sort of the dark mirror to Rapp, a reflection of what he could become if he strays too far. Again the word that I have to keep using with this film is authenticity, and you just buy Kitsch as ‘Ghost’, especially his sordid history with Hurley, which comes to a head in an emotionally charged showdown that leaves both characters bloody.
American Assassin also broke new ground for me in relation to how contemporary it was in its politics and setting. It bases its subject matter around the Iranian Nuclear Accords and this use of slightly uncomfortable geopolitical subject matter makes for a more engaged and exciting watch.
American Assassin is definitely not for those looking for an easy time at the movies, but if you want an edgy rush then you’ve come to the right place. While Vince Flynn sadly never got to see his character make it to the big screen after he died following an aggressive battle with prostate cancer, in my thinking I believe he would have been proud of the care and detail that were placed on making this film a damn fine watch. I have my fingers crossed for a sequel as I’d love to see how O’Brien grows and evolves as Rapp because he’s one badass spy.
Image: Roadshow Films