Mitch Rapp, a US twenty something is videoing the most important day in his life. Holding up his phone, he films his girlfriend in the Spanish surf, whilst holding out an engagement ring. This perfect romantic moment is suddenly shattered by a hail of semi-automatic gunfire as terrorist bullets strafe the beach. Bullet ridden and dying in the surf, Mitch looks to be dead as he lies next to the body of his fiancée – and yet somehow he miraculously survives.
‘'American Assassin' has the initial feel of the ‘Homeland' TV series…
From this explosive start to the conclusion of its first act, ‘American Assassin’ has the initial feel of the ‘Homeland’ TV series with Clare Danes and Damien Lewis. Like the TV show, whilst oddly divorced from reality, it has an engaging appetite for detail that will you keep you glued to the action as you follow Mitch’s quest for revenge.
With the later arrival of Michael Keaton’s black op’s leader Stan Hurley, the focus of the story then shifts to their mentor-student relationship in a plot line much akin to 2003’s ‘The Recruit’ with Colin Farrell. As Keaton injects his ever dependable mixture of gruff creepiness into the role of a sadistic dojo master, the film then moves on to the more predictable business of pursuing of stolen weapons and apprehending bad guys in a third act that feels similar to a ’24’ episode with Kiefer Sutherland.
So, although slickly shot and pleasantly taunt in its middle section, ‘American Assassin’ still ultimately struggles not to be another derivative spy thriller. Mercifully eschewing the campiness of ‘Mission Impossible’, and James Bond, its grasp for realism ultimately places it next to movies like ‘The Shooter’ with Mark Wahlberg – and that’s where the issue of casting comes up. For because whilst Dylan O’Brien maybe the right age to play Mitch Rapp, neither the actor, nor his character are a match for Matt Damon in ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ – and that’s where the problem is.
In the dense, overgrown forest of international spy thrillers ‘American Assassin’ ultimately feels more and more televisual by its end. Despite an interesting opening, the hero’s quest is sadly mired by a clichéd nemesis and an indifferent teaser of more things to come.
Despite being good in places, this nascent franchise that will definitely have to do more next time if it wants to make it in the espionage jungle where Bond and Bourne are still the big beasts.0