Oh goody. Another story about a white guy killing brown guys. Yeah, that seems like the exact kind of dogmatic bullshit we want to keep reinforcing and ingraining in our national conscience.
No, of course “American Assassin” isn’t only about a white guy killing brown guys. That’s an oversimplification, though not much of one. The story follows a young man named Mitch Rapp who watches his fiancé get gunned down by terrorists on a beach in Spain. After this inciting incident, Rapp spends the next 18 months turning himself into a weapon so he can infiltrate the terrorist cell that attacked that beach, find the guy that killed his girlfriend, and kill him right back. He succeeds in his infiltration plan only to see his target get gunned down by the CIA — to which he responds with cries of “No!” and repeatedly stabbing the target’s dead body.
Instead of getting him the psychiatric help he so obviously needs, the CIA recruits him into their top-secret kill squad, Orion.
The “plot” — and I use the term in its most basic sense — continues from here, with Rapp and Orion going after an Iranian nuclear weapon. The “plot” leaves something to be desired — perhaps a semblance of complexity? Of course, it is an action movie plot, with all of the tropes involved in that stew. But it’s not even a particularly good action movie plot. It’s blandly predictable: “Oh boy, we’re about to finally see the main antagonist and WHAT? He’s American? And what’s more, he used to be a member of Orion? Who could have seen that coming?”
The lack of plot wouldn’t be so bad if there were actually compelling characters in the film. But there aren’t any. Rapp goes from being a psychotic rage machine with a thirst for vengeance to a psychotic rage machine with a slight stated-but-definitely-still-there thirst for vengeance. Michael Keaton, who played Rapp’s mentor and the leader of Orion, had barely any personality in the first half of the film, outside of grunting angrily at the team members of Orion when they inevitably messed up. In the second half, his personality did emerge, but it was as if the stereotypical grizzled, old, military mentor smoked too much weed and then nearly drowned in a bathtub. I was incredibly disappointed, especially after Keaton’s recent performance as Vulture in “Spider-Man: Homecoming.”
I was hoping the film’s action scenes would be good even if the film itself was terrible. Once again, I was met with bitter disappointment. The trailers for this film led me to believe that I’d get to see some excellent gun-fu action. No such luck, though: the action scenes were brutal and bloody, but in terms of the actual choreography, they’re nothing that the average movie-goer hasn’t seen thousands of times.
As much of a let-down as the action scenes in “American Assassin” were, they were at least truer to life than most action movies. The first gunshot heard in the film is almost deafening. It’s surprising and uncomfortable. Bullet wounds in this film aren’t neat, little holes like we see in most portrayals — they’re large, gaping wounds with a disturbing amount of blood and a disquieting, true effect on the characters. That part of the direction feels very real and true-to-life, unlike most of the direction and acting, which just feels forced, fake, and completely contrived.
All in all, “American Assassin” is a disappointing, plotless film with nothing to distinguish it from other films in its genre. I’ve heard that the books it’s based off are good. I’d bet the author is pretty disappointed.