"Out there you're a ghost, you don't exist."
Has anyone ever been faced with a movie that they would have no interest in whatsoever save for one element? A movie that based on everything you have seen relating to it, from the trailers to the premise and even the title itself, seems like the most generic kind of vanilla you can imagine and yet there is that one singular element that grabs your interest? Today that movie is ‘American Assassin’ and. that aspect of interest is Michael Keaton.
When Cold War veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) takes CIA black ops recruit Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) under his wing, they receive an assignment to investigate a wave of random attacks on both military and civilian targets. After discovering a pattern of violence, Hurley and Rapp join forces with a lethal Turkish agent to stop a mysterious operative who wants to start a global war.
If you’ve never seen a spy thriller movie before then there is probably a lot of enjoyment to be had with ‘American Assassin’, and even if you have then you’re likely to enjoy the first act of the movie at least. It has a stark opening that does a decent job endearing you to the main character and making you feel invested in his plight. But as the film ploughs along it gradually descends further and further into clichés, standard plot points and perfectly average filmmaking.
Even the little pieces of interest that were established at the start seem to fall by the wayside. Characters are given motivations but then never developed further, ideas are brought up but not explored in any great detail, it’s part of why the film can’t help but feel as generic as it does later on. More so than the fact that every plot point feels annoyingly clichéd, they all feel somewhat underdeveloped and as a result struggle to hold the audience’s attention. The entire pacing and structure of the film also seem to fall apart at this point, with a second and third act that just sort of blend into one another and make the conclusion feel sudden as well as anticlimactic.
But as I said earlier, my reason for watching ‘American Assassin’ was mostly down to Michael Keaton who is working here at his usual standard of excellence. It’s a shame that the screenplay doesn’t give him much to work with but on the whole Keaton brings a magnetic presence to the film that makes every scene featuring him feel more involving. More than once we actually get to see Keaton bring forth some brilliant insanity that we’ve gone way too long without, that alone is worth the price of admission.
In fact on the whole the performances are solid. What I said for Keaton applies to the rest of the cast as their acting talent is clearly there but the screenplay lacks the depth to make any of these actors stretch their range or even stray out of their comfort zone. Even Dylan O’Brien in the lead role can’t quite create a sense of intrigue with his character that makes me feel especially invested in the plot once we had uncovered his core motivation. So while Mitch Rapp comes across as a sympathetic character he never morphs into one that I felt thoroughly invested in. He doesn’t leave an impact like Daniel Craig’s Bond or Matt Damon’s Bourne.
I think what makes the movie feel even more generic is the way its action is directed. I can’t find anything inherently wrong with Michael Cuesta’s handling of the action scenes in the movie but at the same time there’s no style to make them stand out. None of the action leaves a lasting impact as none of the environments in which the action takes place nor does the way Cuesta chooses to execute said action feel remotely unique. It’s perfectly fine but never strives to be anything more than that.
It even seems uninterested in its own plot. There’s no urgency in the way it unfolds, no sense of danger to permeate each scene, no tension as each plot thread plays out. Once again I find myself being unable to criticise it in any serious way as the plot isn’t terrible. It has stakes and consequences but it never reminds the audience of what they are, nor does it make its protagonist feel involved with them. It’s just a case of each part of the plot being presented to the audience in the exact same tone and style throughout. Had this been a movie in which there was more going on I would commend it for keeping a consistent tone and style, but ‘American Assassin’ could have really benefitted from being a bit less consistent and taking a few more calculated risks where necessary.
Competent but also lifeless, ‘American Assassin’ is a rather bland and generic entry in the spy genre.
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