As you can tell from the title to this Michael Cuesta thriller, American Assassin is a disappointingly generic endeavour, that takes an intriguing premise and sadly gives it the cliched Hollywood treatment. It’s a shame for this title studies a contemporary landscape, and a very present anxiety in the Western world following the recent influx of terrorist attacks – but fails to transcend the tropes of the genre at hand, abiding to it too stringently if somewhat affectionately.
Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is on vacation with girlfriend, where he finally pops the big question. The answer is a resounding yes, and just as he heads to the bar to buy some drinks to celebrate his engagement, he returns to find a beach full of corpses, after a collective of terrorists open fired on tourists – one of which belongs to Mitch’s fiancé. Scarred by the events, he makes it his life ambition to seek revenge, and successfully infiltrates a jihadist militant group – which alerts the CIA, who are impressed by his resourcefulness, hoping to recruit him in their counter-terrorism team, where he’s taken under the wing of veteran Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). As the pair work together, Mitch’s volatility could be an issue – but one they’re prepared to risk, for he’s thrown into the deep end when pursuing a dangerous criminal seems hellbent on launching a nuclear attack.
There’s a fascinating set-up to this production, with so much potential in a thriller whereby we follow an emotionally dented protagonist go undercover in a jihadist group in order to seek revenge on an attack that saw them take away the life of a loved one. However in this instance it sadly proves to be a mere introduction, setting the scene for a narrative we’ve seen countless times before – of a young, impetuous youth who seeks to prove all of the naysayers wrong and help save the world. It’s a shame this happens, especially since it undoes the good work of the lead two actors, as both O’Brien and Keaton turn in impressive performances, while the dynamic between Mitch and Stan is the most enjoyable aspect of this title, as the pair lock horns constantly – evidently incompatible and yet more similar than either of them would ever admit, with the latter equally, if not more hot-heated than the whippersnapper he’s trying to set on the right path.
Again, this paramount relationship is cheapened by the faithful abiding to type, as Cuesta ticks all the boxes of what makes a archetypal Hollywood action thriller – as a title devoid of originality. Taking so few risks, sadly the adventures of Mitch Rapp aren’t those you particularly want to invest in again – which is a shame given this is a film based on a series of novels which could’ve held so much potential as a new franchise to help fill the hole that Jason Bourne and Taken have now left. Back to the drawing board we go.