Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Movie Review: American Assassin (2017)



The plot: Mitch (Dylan O’Brien)’s life got turned upside down after his fiancĂ©e was murdered in the middle of a terrorist attack. From then on, Mitch dedicated himself to getting revenge on the terrorist cell, to the point of getting the attention of CIA Deputy Director Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). She sends Mitch to train under black ops operative Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) and prepare for the best chance he has to get that revenge he craves.

The cast is… ugh. This is the kind of film that seems to actively go against my regular format because not only is the cast rather small, it’s also only good for the more visible actors; the others barely register anything. O’Brien still seems to be in cocky asshole mode from The Scorch Trials, but credit to him for passing as an action lead and selling the usual bravado that entails. His one-liner delivery needs some work, but otherwise, he’s decent. Taylor Kitsch as an enemy agent only really gets one scene to really show his stuff, and it’s opposite Michael Keaton; he does well and there’s absolutely no contest. As for Keaton himself, he is once again made of awesome and the best part of this entire production, getting across cold efficiency and easily one of the ‘best’ torture scenes I’ve seen in a while; the amount of pain his character goes through and he still comes across like he could kill the torturer in ten seconds flat, the mark of a real badass.

For an action-thriller­, this only carries a baseline amount of suspense. It’s serviceable in that it seems to know the blueprint for these types of stories, where the thrills are made out of the fear that the lead character is going to screw up somewhere, but that threat rarely if ever pays off. It suffers from the usual nigh-on invincibility that tends to make for the weaker entries in the genre, which honestly works in Keaton’s case but definitely not with our main hero. However, just as an action flick, it’s mostly pretty decent. The action scenes themselves are rather simple, sticking mostly to the four F’s (Fist Fights and Fire-Fights), but the choreography for them is good and the actors are able to sell them properly. There’s a real love for the red stuff here, with the aforementioned torture scene being easily one of the least bloody moments in the film… as is the opening mass shooting, but I digress; it’s gory and wince-inducing, but just short of splatstick territory. However, I said that these ‘mostly’ work, and that’s because of the painfully obvious CGI. As much as I get the need for it in this film to an extent, the fact that it is as glaring as it is really cuts short a lot of the bigger action scenes due to it clearly not actually happening on screen. This ends up reaching a nadir during the climax, where the effects work not only becomes even more conspicuous somehow but also enters the realms of just plain ridiculous. After all these other scenes that are pretty low-flash and grounded, the ending feels like it’s something the guys behind Fast & Furious would have scrapped for being too ridiculous. There may be a proper scientific explanation for how a nuclear bomb is supposed to act that way, but it still looks goofy as shit regardless.

From Rapp’s introduction into the plot to his training with Hurley, we get a reiteration of a point that comes up a lot in revenge thrillers: Revenge isn’t the way to go. As weird as that sentiment is, actively going against the foundations of your own story, it’s served as the backbone for some of the genre’s best examples like Death Sentence. However, for all this film’s talk of “don’t make it personal” and “don’t let your emotions get the better of you”, it doesn’t walk the walk to follow that. Hell, Hurley seems to be the only person here who even bothers following that logic, given how operating on raw instinct is Rapp’s schtick for the entire film. It has the same problem that Taken 2 did in how it wanted to have its ultraviolent cake and smash it too. Although, to be fair, it does lead to a single nugget of a good idea and it once again involves Hurley during the torture scene. Basically, the whole “don’t make it personal” thing gets flipped on its head as Hurley’s interaction with Kitsch’s enemy agent not only exposes the underlying problems with that mindset, but also allude to real-world examples of the U.S. essentially creating its own enemies. You know, that thing I briefly brought up in my review for American Made? But again, single scene for it to germinate and then it gets discarded right afterwards. This film honestly could have been salvaged by digging a bit deeper into that, showing how people left in the rubble by the military end up striking back against it, but honestly, I liked it more when American Made did it. Yes, the film that bored me to the core of my being did a better job than this did; I see this year still isn’t done surprising me.

All in all, this film feels incredibly played out. Keaton, O’Brien and even Kitsch hold up to scrutiny, the action scenes are decent and there’s even some traces of bigger commentary on military action and its unintended results, but the rest of it is just a mass of blood-soaked, poorly animated, seen-this-so-many-times-before drivel. It’s worse than Ballerina, which also only has a couple scant items to help salvage the larger picture but at least that film’s high points were more consistent than this: One good scene at the start and one near the end of this nearly-two-hour movie is all we realistically get. However, since this not only has some legitimate reasons to watch (Keaton’s entire performance, mainly) but also looks like it’s worth seeing on the big screen, it still fares better than Raising The Bar.

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