AMERICAN ASSASSIN (USA/18/112 mins)
Directed by Michael Cuesta. Starring Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Taylor Kitsch, Sanaa Lathan, David Suchet.
THE PLOT:
 Young American Mitch (Dylan O’Brien) is on holidays in Spain with his fiancée. While he watches, she’s murdered by ISIS-style terrorists who open fire on a beach. 18 months later, Mitch is gunning for revenge and is attempting to infiltrate a terrorist cell and pose as a jihadist. He finds himself in over his head though. Having been watched by the CIA, he’s brought in by Deputy Director Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan). She sees something in him, a drive to achieve a common goal. He could be a valuable weapon, particularly now that a dangerous situation has arisen. Weapons-grade Russian plutonium has been stolen by renegade American terrorist Ghost (Taylor Kitsch). To stop him, Mitch must first undergo a rigorous training schedule dictated by the no-nonsense, ex-Navy Seal Hurley (Michael Keaton)…
THE VERDICT: Based on the best-selling novel by Vince Flynn and adapted here by no less than four writers including Edward Zwick, ‘American Assassin’ is a violent, full-throttle action thriller. It leaves the likes of the recent, underwhelming Stratton in the dust wondering what just happened. Part of that is down to the brisk plotting, which sets up the key elements of Mitch’s journey early on – personal loss, reckless revenge, a chance to prove himself and work for his country, rather than himself. In a sense, it becomes the flipside of Luc Besson’s ‘Nikita’, but with a more international angle involving a race against time.
Mitch is something of a blank slate initially, upon which Kennedy and Hurley will write their lessons. He’s not good at following orders though, going off script at times. Those early scenes involving Mitch training with Hurley work well, thanks to good rapport between O’Brien and Keaton. Keaton is the wild card here – a torture scene sees him amusingly turn the tables on his interrogator. He brings what is basically an average action thriller up an extra few notches and adds a welcome touch of class. You can also see that the other actors are keeping up with him too – perhaps some focused direction from ‘Kill The Messenger’’s Michael Cuesta. Even the usually bland Kitsch makes an effort.
Cuesta stages some brutal, bone-crunching fist fights and good action overall, culminating in an explosive finale. Yes, that familiar plot device – the ticking bomb with big red numbers – appears once again. The film doesn’t really need it, given that there’s enough international intrigue and globe-hopping locations (London, Istanbul, Rome) to keep the plot ticking away. Mitch’s own agenda seems a little lost later on, like it was swept under the carpet by the writers in order to pursue this new direction for the character. Did they think we wouldn’t notice? Anyway, ‘American Assassin’ does that little bit more than what it says on the tin. It’s an entertaining actioner that has the potential to launch a new action hero.
RATING: 3.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor