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American films

Film review: American Assassin – Dylan O’Brien hilariously miscast in misguided revenge thriller

Michael Keaton hams it up as a CIA operative, while O’Brien seems more like a university student than vengeful killer in this action-filled Bourne wannabe

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 September, 2017, 7:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 2:44pm

2/5 stars

American Assassin opens with young American Mitch Rapp ( The Maze Runner ’s Dylan O’Brien) proposing to his girlfriend while on holiday at a beach resort in Spain. The audience sees this mostly from Rapp’s perspective via footage recorded through his phone – as if we’re watching an Instagram post. So imagine the horror when a group of armed men of obvious Middle Eastern origin storm the beach and slaughter almost everyone in sight.

Director Michael Cuesta shoots this terrorist act with gruesome tight framing – we see bodies riddled with bullet holes; knives coming in from out of frame into jugulars. Considering the terrorist atrocities of the past few years, the scene will be highly disturbing for many.

Rapp is one of the few who survives the attack – his fiancée does not – and the next time we see him, 18 months later, he’s a bitter man consumed by a desire for vengeance. He takes lessons in weapons, MMA, and Arabic every day, in a quest to infiltrate the terrorist group’s headquarters in Syria.

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Before Rapp can complete his revenge, he’s recruited by the CIA to join an elite black ops squad captained by former war hero Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). One of those old tough guy mentor clichés, Hurley pushes Rapp to widen his scope, to turn his hatred of brown-skinned terrorists to, well, baddies of all ethnicities. After the obligatory training scenes, the second half of the film sees Rapp and Hurley jetting around the globe, killing enemies of the state.

It’s hard to gauge whether American Assassin is a shallow tale lionising American patriotism or a condemnation of the US government’s eagerness to recruit angry macho men consumed by jingoism. There are certainly dialogues that hint at the US government’s sins, but the film mostly glamorises Rapp and Hurley.

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The Hollywood studio behind the film is certainly hoping to turn American Assassin into a Jason Bourne type of franchise, but O’Brien is hilariously miscast – he looks more like a skinny university student than a supreme killing machine – and the source material just isn’t that interesting. But at least the action scenes are well shot and Keaton gleefully hams it up in his one-dimensional role.

American Assassin opens on September 28

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