Call of Duty Meets Jason Bourne in the worst way possible

Rapp (O’Brien) and Annika (Negar) walk down the streets of Rome, showcasing that once again, wearing black will never reveal your affiliation to secret government-sponsored assassin teams.
American Assassin 
Director: Michael Cuesta
Stars: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan and Taylor Kitsch
Score: ★


Fans of Vince Flynn’s book series — upon which the film is based — as well as admirers of the intelligence/military genre will feel insulted if they’re unfortunate enough to suffer through American Assassin.

The film has everything that is wrong with Hollywood scriptwriters when it comes to depicting the intelligence and the military community on film, appearing more akin to propaganda than an actual movie. 

It deviates massively from the source material, forgoing all of the political tension that made the novels compelling.

The Mitch Rapp series has always been based on the dynamics of Washington politics interfering directly on the “War on Terror”, however the film doesn’t focus on either of those things.

The plot is like an overblown Call of Duty single-player campaign, complete with a “No-Russian” style introduction. Mitch Rapp’s (Dylan O’Brien) fiancée is ruthlessly gunned down among dozens of others at a Spanish beach, sparking Rapp’s quest for vengeance and his subsequent recruitment into Orion Team, a secretive operation within the CIA.

The film’s direction, for much of its run time, is blatantly obvious. Rapp’s fiancée is designed by default to die 10 minutes later and the plot twists are like a poor gambler’s tells. Clichés are scattered throughout, including the “I’m not going to kill you” shtick by the villain.

Caption: Rapp (O’Brien) and Kennedy (Lathan) discuss why he has not changed his shirt yet.

Characterisation is paper-thin, with Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) being the only character who seems like an actual person. Rapp himself is a bland caricature of an angry, rebellious young man with revenge on his mind. Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan), his CIA handler, is even less compelling and, perhaps worst of all, the villain Ghost (Taylor Kitsch) is a hollow take on the soldier-betrayed-by-his-country trope.

From a technical standpoint, the film’s action sequences are surprisingly graphic but occasionally cringeworthy with their Call of Duty blood splatters on the screen. The cinematography lacks the punch that wide-shots require to establish locations, and occasional fast cuts during action sequences make it difficult to appreciate the choreography and stunt work.

The soundtrack is non-existent and much of the film’s aesthetics lack a visual identity, in terms of a colour palette or visual communication.

Perhaps the best thing about the movie is its brief exploration into the strength of the modern Iranian woman,  typified by Annika (Shiva Negar). But even her character, along with Kennedy, fails the Bechdel test.

American Assassin will prompt moviegoers to switch off their brains if they are expecting something original. This is a poor book-to-film adaptation and a waste of potential on a title character that ought to explore the post 9/11 US nationalistic revenge tale.