Man, they just don’t make spy thrillers like they used to. American Assassin, the latest and not greatest entry into the pantheon of American spy films, hit cinemas this weekend with some intriguing elements. A new star, a great character actor, a bajillion book series, were all in play to make the movie work. However, by about halfway through the film, you’d be hard pressed to care about how the movie ends because it drastically loses steam.
The plot is pretty simple. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is recruited into an elite program headed up by a surly CIA operative (Michael Keaton) after the death of his fiance turns him into a one man terror cell obliterator. He teams with another spy to track down missing Plutonium and a man they call Ghost (Taylor Kitsch).
With a simple plot, you’d think there would have been space for some really interesting elements to fill in and give life to the story. Unfortunately, American Assassin gets lost in it’s quest to get to the climax and stay on it’s plotted line. This movie is so concerned moving from set piece to set piece and story beat that it doesn’t do enough little things right. There’s weird sound mix issues when characters are not on screen and their dialogue sounds like it’s coming from another room. The action scenes themselves are decent but the lead up to them is aiding by weird cutting, enabling characters to teleport from space to space with ease. It feels as though Michael Cuesta got more concerned about the cool factor than the continuity factor.
American Assassin’s non-stop race to the finish also means that the characters come off very broad and the actors don’t know how to reign them all the way in. This is a group of spies that seem so terrible at being spies (they seem outmatched in every situation) that even when they are sitting down observing the action, it feels like they should be made. Cuesta cannot seem to wrangle the competing elements of having us follow spies on a journey whilst also making them blend in, as spies would. It also robs certain characters of the ability to seep into a narrative, choosing to make them mysterious or slightly out of our gaze to wallop us with twists later, when in reality we just wanted more interesting characters
Perhaps most unforgiving of all is that the narrative stops caring about Mitch Rapp’s emotional development on its quest to have the hero keep emotion out of it. Dylan O’Brien strikes a pretty interesting figure as Mitch, and you can see him battling back the feelings and hurt from losing a loved one. However, the narrative doesn’t seem to care about knocking the character off his axis and making him wrestle with anything for more than a second. Every single decision Mitch Rapp makes when it comes to the mission proves to be right, whether he’s executing or ignoring orders. That’s one way to show that your hero is capable but it’s also pretty boring as far as storytelling goes. There’s no consequences to his actions, a terrible thing to do when the film starts with criminals paying for gunning down his fiance. Just one decision that Rapp made going poorly and blowing up in his face would have made for a way more interesting film. Instead American Assassin goes for the lowest common, and most boring, denominator on it’s way to a pretty silly, if logical climax.