There is a common thread to films about revenge and its that death changes people. It strips away pieces of the person you used to be. Mitch Rapp, the titual revenge seeking assassin clearly lost both his intelligence and sense of subtlety when his fiancee is brutally killed in a terrorist attack in the films opening minutes.
American Assassin, from director Michael Cuesta follows Mitch (Dylan O’Brien) as he seeks out revenge by transforming himself into a weapon designed to take life. When he hits the CIA’s radar he is recruited and trained to be a secret weapon, a ghost capable of getting the job done whatever the cost. When a mysterious former asset (Taylor Kitsch) emerges seeking to assemble a nuclear warhead, Rapp must stop him. There is just one problem though. Mitch Rapp is an idiot.
It’s not his fault. Hell, you can’t even blame Cuesta although you can blame him for so many other things plaguing this low rent Mission Impossible/Bourne wannabe. The problem is that plot plays a backseat to some of the most unnecessary ultra violence cinema has seen in a long time and Mitch is little more than a wild dog due to a script so woefully under developed its a wonder this even made it to screens.
Co-written by the writing team of Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, Assassin is a mixture of voices that can never really decide on what the hell is going on and who its characters are. Not only is Rapp equal parts morally bankrupt and smugly superior, a mixture that does not make for a charismatic lead but he is backed up by some equally paper thin cohorts such as veteran spy Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a walking contradiction in terms whose role in the film as the ineffectual babysitter is wildly irritating.
The crime here is that there was the potential of a good movie. O’Brien has proven to be extremely charismatic when given the right material and Cuesta makes the best of a bad situation in moments when the blood stops flowing and people have a chance to practice actual spycraft. The problem is these quiet moments are drowned out by action so over the top that its hard to believe this is a spy thriller at all. Bodies drop at an alarming rate, characters we should care about die with little significance besides an obligatory line as Rapp and Hurley go chasing the next bad guy down the line.
But like I said, this is a film about revenge and you can’t do revenge properly without getting dark, bloody and gosh darn serious. Then again, The Bourne Supremacy was a film that dealt almost entirely in revenge and yet it still found time for some fun, a few jokes and even a little justice. Assassin is merely interested in making people bleed, and bleed good. The collateral damage from Rapp’s crusade is staggering. From the blood lust on display you wouldn’t be amiss thinking this was at one point in the scripting stage a story about a vampire assassin.
It’s hard to be unreservedly harsh about a film people clearly put a lot of effort into but when the result is this messy it begs the question of, if you didn’t know what you were saying why say anything at all? American Assassin seems desperate to make a point, it strives to bring to the forefront the idea that terrorism causes casualties nobody intended as well as the ones they did. However in doing so the film makes its main hero, if you can call him that, out to be one of the terrorists he fought so hard to eradicate. He has become part of the problem.
Mitch Rapp isn’t a glowing endorsement of the freedom his country claims to protect. He’s a broken man justifying his rampage through the guise of patriotism and if you ask me that’s the most insulting part.