Tuesday 19 September 2017

American Assassin

Son Of A Beach

American Assassin
2017 USA Directed by Michael Cuesta
UK cinema release print.

American Assassin is a movie based on a ‘prequel novel’ from a successful series of books by Vince Flynn about a character called Mitch Rapp, played here by Dylan O' Brien and set in the world of international espionage. Now, I’ve not read the book but I understand there was at least one major change to the story settings here but, obviously, my ability to judge this movie in terms of adaptation is non-existent. But, as I’ve said so many times on this blog before, I may not be able to tell you how faithful it is to the original source material but I do know how it plays as a film.

The story starts with some poignant POV footage of Mitch proposing to his girlfriend on a beach. The POV stuff ends and the film goes into regular style footage when, as he runs off to get some celebratory drinks, terrorist open fire on the tourists and she is killed. The change to the story I was talking about earlier was, I believe, to have the girl killed in a beach shooting for this whereas, in the novel, I believe she was killed in the Lockerbie bombing. Jump to 18 months later and Mitch has been training himself up (cue long montage sequence) and is about to infiltrate a terrorist cell to start a long revenge/war on terrorism process. However, because he’s been drawing attention to himself, the CIA have been watching him and when things go a bit pear shaped for Mitch, they come to the rescue like the cavalry and eventually recruit him, sending him to train with super duper ex-Navy seal, killing machine turned instructor Stan Hurley, played here by Michael Keaton.

From here the film progresses along a familiar, somewhat clich├ęd but largely enjoyable story line as Hurley’s team, including Mitch, have to go after a large haul of stolen plutonium and preferably retrieve it before it can be made into a bomb. However, an ex-student of Hurley’s, who is bearing a grudge and was thought missing presumed dead, is also involved in the plot and... yeah, you get the picture. There’s nothing new here. It’s pretty much just a Western revenge story. Back in the old days the bad guys would have been red Indians. If the film had come out in the sixties it would have been changed to a cold war story and the Russians would have been the bad guys. Where we are with it now is that it’s centred around Middle Eastern terrorism to an extent but, whatever, a fairly typical film plot with just the bad guy stereotypes updated to modern times.

It also doesn’t matter though because the film is fast paced, doesn’t always rely on dialogue heavy scenes to tell its story and is actually not all that much about glorifying the violence although, it has to be said, there is rather a lot of it in here and it gets quite brutal at times (I really could have done without the extended torture sequence towards the end of the movie but it wasn’t too harrowing to watch, I guess). In some ways it’s a little bit like the other action movie I saw at the cinema a couple of weeks ago... Stratton (reviewed here) but this one seems to have a bigger budget and is a lot sleeker in terms of how thing looks. Of course it helps that you have wonderful actors like Michael Keaton added into the mix, playing somebody who he’s possibly just a little too old to play, I suspect but, because it is Keaton we are talking about here, he looks like he really could do everything he does in the movie without losing credibility and, as you might expect, Keaton knocks it out of the park. It also has a good little score by Steven Price which keeps things nicely ticking over when needed.

Some of the editing was a little bit more aggressive than I was expecting. You expect some fast, possibly out of kilter and sometimes jarring edits in an action sequence but even in the more slower paced sequences, I thought some of the ways in which shots were cut together didn’t show the most audience friendly route. Now, that might well have been because the frame designs being utilised in these sections seemed less likely to mesh without leading the eyes away from the place they were looking at in the previous shot... which is something modern directors sometimes lose sight of, I think.

Another thing which is a slight but not insurmountable problem here is that the movie, as formulaic as it is, has a tendency towards telegraphing its intentions somewhat during the course of the film. For instance, I was pretty sure that something very specific was going to be revealed about one of the characters from very early on in the film, once that character had been introduced and... yeah... I was right. However, that particular issue... which I’m trying not to talk about because I don’t want to included any spoilers here... is actually upended again later on in the film and the result of the specific twist I’m talking about is somewhat built on and realigned along a different path before the story is done... which is about as good a thing as could have happened with it, to be honest.

Ultimately, American Assassin never really rises above being a good little action thriller but, as far as that goes, that should probably be enough. It’s not one I could repeat watch or anything but it was a good evening out at the cinema and, as a bonus, you get to see Michael Keaton playing a tough as nails action hero character and, really, you couldn’t ask for much more than that. Also, the very last shot, which is pretty much a ‘break the fourth wall’ moment in the film, was the perfect way to end this one. Definitely worth a trip out to your local to catch this assassin’s ass in action.

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