Thrillers may be most well known for their choreographed action scenes and handsome killers firing guns at every opportunity, but at the very least, they should all have concrete plot lines. American Assassins starts out promising enough, but quickly descends into a mess of overly drawn out fighting scenes and snarky comebacks.
The plot is astonishingly thin (no spoilers here) and is rarely reinforced. It’s easy to lose track of exactly where the movie is going. The director also keeps insisting on adding in emotionally charged scenes throughout the movie that detract from the actual plot (much like a YA fiction novel). Even Dylan O’Brien (starring as Mitch Rapp) can’t save the film.
Jonathan Pile of Empire wrote that American Assassin “would have been better served aiming for a lighter tone.” This comment reveals everything that is wrong with this movie. The film begins with a terrorist attack at a beach resort that leaves Mitch Rapp’s girlfriend dead and Mitch himself scarred for life. So the typical expectation would be a movie about Mitch’s inner struggle or perhaps his own journey to wipe out the terrorist cell that killed his girlfriend. Instead, it jumps to the CIA and a terrorist plot that becomes more about action than Mitch’s personal strife.
The juxtaposition of those two might have worked, but it’s evident that director Michael Cuesta wasn’t clear on exactly how to do that. For something as dark as Mitch’s past to really touch the audience, it has to be reinforced in more than just three or four short scenes. As if that wasn’t enough, the movie had to add another dark past to Stan Hurley (played by Michael Keaton), Mitch’s instructor. We’ve all got a history, but American Assassin really blows it all out of proportion.
Despite everything though, there is an astonishingly thematic element to the movie (for those that care to look for it). It’s subtle, but there are powerful themes hidden in American Assassin. How many need to die for there to be peace? How many can a person kill before they shut down from the guilt of it? Can revenge be the best and strongest motivator? And most of all (this is quite possibly among the most controversial questions of them all), what exactly is America doing in this war against terrorism? Is it worth it, and are we even doing it right?
In three words, American Assassin is typical, confusing, and trying too hard. It’s hard to jump into a movie that is just a repeat of the many American thrillers that came before it. That 33% on Rotten Tomatoes is well deserved, unless you think that Dylan O’Brien hammering it out with terrorists is worth spending two hours of your life on.