Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, Taylor Kitsch, and David Suchet
Director: Michael Cuesta
111 minutes (18) 2017
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Lions Gate 4K Ultra HD
[Released 15th January]
Review by Steven Hampton
Based upon a novel by Vince Flynn, this CBS production starts with a terrorist attack on a Spanish beach where civilians are slaughtered, including the hero’s girlfriend. A wounded survivor, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien, Maze Runner movies, Teen Wolf TV show), becomes obsessed with revenge and transforms himself into a vigilante against Muslim extremists. Going beardy in Libya, almost suicidal Rapp infiltrates a terrorist’s secret base but, in the movie’s first plot twist, he is rescued and recruited by CIA deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan, Alien vs. Predator).
She introduces novice Rapp to military mentor Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Birdman, RoboCop remake), a former US navy SEAL who trains Rapp along with other agents for an elite ‘Orion’ team. This training sequence includes an augmented reality scenario with VR head-gear. Hurley leads a mission in Turkey to catch a nuke deal in progress, and Rapp is teamed up with local spy Annika (Shiva Negar), going off-script, and into rogue action, but still managing to uncover evidence of the bomb-maker’s plans. When the heroes track down a mercenary physicist in Rome, interrogations mean torture on both sides of the spy wars, where betrayals, and violent confrontations with a profiled target, known only as ‘Ghost’ (Taylor Kitsch), eventually result in an epic, disaster-movie styled, climax.
A gritty and graphic exploration of espionage schemes, American Assassin delivers its downbeat, genre-wise adventures with plenty of sharply choreographed stunts in tightly edited action scenes. Rapp seems a very unlikely hero at first, and O’Brien’s portrayal of him as an embittered everyman, who’s turned just as fanatical as the enemy forces that he opposes, is only sketched into place at the centre of a murky international conspiracy which proves to be a marked contrast to James Bond’s glamorous heroics. The character of Hurley is actually more compelling than the younger Rapp, and Keaton brings a much needed gravitas to an otherwise clichéd role. The set-up for a possible sequel is intriguing enough that a follow-up would be a welcome addition to the 21st century’s spy actioners.
The 4K Ultra HD edition has superb image quality, and this movie really benefits from the HDR format where no picture detail is lost, even in the various low-light scenes.