American Assassin review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Author Vince Flynn must have an amazing writing style. I’ve never read any of his books, but they seem to have a massive following for there to be so much buzz around adapting his novels for the big screen. So why is it just a standard thriller with typical terrorists and an average nuke plot? The director must have realized this story was too simple as well as he tries to turn up the volume on the violence, the grit and the brewing racism for Muslims. In doing so, this type of story goes from average to dumb to chaotically ugly with its real-world related violence and stupid characters.
The predictable plot begins right from the first scene. Mitch (Dylan O'Brien) has just proposed to his girlfriend on the beach while video taping the event in front of a crowd. To celebrate, he goes to get her a drink from the bar, waving towards her as he is ordering. It doesn’t take a genius to know she is going to end up dead. I was thinking it’d be a shark attack or a boating accident. Instead, it’s a terrorist attack...at the beach. A group of terrorists on boats disembark to shoot up every innocent civilian...at the beach. Um, why? This is never answered. As with everything in the film, it’s an excuse for violence. Mitch is injured in the incident and watches while his girlfriend is shot in the face in front of him by those evil Muslim terrorists. AT THE BEACH! I would love to hear the reasoning about how Isis hates beaches.
Months later, Mitch is consumed with revenge and turns into a massive jerk. He causes fights at the gym and is kicked out. He shoots other people’s targets at a shooting range and is kicked out. He throws knives in his apartment and is very close to being kicked out. His current mission is to infiltrate a sect of Muslim terrorists so that he can join their ranks and kill the leader who instigated the beach massacre. But when he finally gets far enough into Muslim terrorist territory to kill this man, the CIA bursts his bubble by killing the bastard for him. The movie is over, right? He has no need to keep fighting and should work on not being a social outcast for being filled with rage. But, no, the CIA likes his style and want to hire him because I guess they’re running low on psychopaths in the organization.
Mitch is trained by Hurley (Michael Keaton), an insane CIA veteran of the Cold War that specializes in training the ultimate agents. His course includes such classes as where to shove a knife, a virtual reality shooting course, spot the terrorist in an IKEA and coming to terms with your dead girlfriend. Hurley telegraphs everything that will happen in the mission. He says to never let things get personal in the field. Everything gets personal for these agents, including Hurley. By the film’s own logic, these agents suck, as the plot is entirely reliant on their stupid actions to keep the tension going. Hurley tells Mitch to not pursue the enemy when their position is comprised. He pursues anyway. Hurley is told not to go after the terrorists on his own. He does anyway. Even the Turkish agent of Annika makes one of the most idiotic displays of emotion on the field, compromising her position and forcing her into a suicide maneuver.
There is so much stupidity on display that I questioned why so much of the devoted fans took this story seriously. Mitch’s revenge-obsessed nature is rarely addressed and it seems as though he may have some brewing racism for constantly seeing the face of the Muslim terrorist that killed his girlfriend on every Arab, Turk and Russian he meets. If Mitch is still hallucinating this guy after he is long dead, the CIA may want to do a more extensive psychological test on this guy. The villain is a former Navy officer by the name of Ghost, played by Taylor Kitsch with a bafflingly bad Southern accent in between speaking the language of Iranians. The ending involves a nuke going off in the ocean, reasoning that it needs to be thrown deep enough into the ocean to avoid the radiation it would cause if it went off above water. Not only does the thriller temporarily turn into a disaster picture when it goes off, but nobody seems to be concerned about the massive tidal waves or radiation such a blast would cause within the water. Michael Bay rules, I suppose.
I wanted to go along with the film as a dopey thriller and pass it off as an average Jason Bourne copycat film, but it’s made all the more vulgar with its focus on real-world events. There is no reason for the terrorists to shoot up the beach except to remind us of all the other terrorist attacks where innocent people were shot dead. That scene is followed by an Isis training video showcasing footage of dead Muslims to justify their war against the Americans. Mitch’s vile nature of despising Muslims and everyone around him is never once addressed, reasoning he’d be the perfect killing machine for the war on terror. And the action scenes are overblown with gruesome violence, featuring sliced flesh, broken limbs and fingernails ripped off with pliers.
While I left the screening, I heard a group of older men and women in their 50s talking about how exciting and educational the film was for being reflective of the times. I felt disgusted that something this glib and dubious was considered entertainment in this day and age. What did we really learn from this film? How crazy can Navy soldiers go to build nukes? How we can’t trust anyone brown, including the CIA Turkish agent which, surprise, is working for the enemy? How the CIA needs more people who disobey orders and bite off ears? I learned more from watching the audience for what passes as entertainment these days.