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American Assassin (7/10)

by Tony Medley

runtime 118 minutes


When I saw the first James Bond film, Dr. No (1962) after reading all of Ian Fleming’s books, I didn’t think Sean Connery fit my conception of James. My impression of Bond was more akin to the photo of Ian Fleming that was on the back cover of all the paperbacks. But, of course, I quickly came to love Connery as James and can’t accept any of the substitutes.

I am also a fan of most of Vince Flynn’s book about Mitch Rapp. I was pleased that Dylan O’Brien, who plays Mitch, corresponds with my mental image of the protagonist. But I wasn’t thrilled with Michael Keaton (whom I generally like) as Stan Hurley. Keaton is just not the way I pictured Hurley from the novels. I was always a fan of Keaton’s. But the last 2 films I’ve seen in which he appeared, this and The Founder (2016), he has been less than compelling. In the latter he was given a bad, biased script and inept directing. Here, he’s just not the right guy for the part and he is hampered by an ineffective script.

Worse, the second most important character in the books was Rapp’s boss, Irene Kennedy. I pictured Helen Mirren or Judi Dench in this role, or someone like them. I certainly never pictured a too young actress, Sanaa Lathan, who was jarring every time she appeared on screen. In the books Kennedy seemed to be to be much older with a much stronger personality than that portrayed by Lathan, who seems more a contemporary of Rapp’s than an older superior. It’s not her fault that the character has not been understood, properly structured, or thought out by the writers and director.

Even more harmful to the film is the way director Michael Cuesta and the 4 writers (Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz) have changed the plot. It’s always a bad sign when you see as many as 4 writing credits on a film and Flynn’s plots don’t need any “help” from unimaginative guys like this.

The action in the film is relatively incoherent and incredible. The ending is nothing short of Hollywood puerility.

American Assassin was one of the last books Flynn wrote before his death, and it told the story of Rapp’s derivation, how he came to be an assassin, and his search for revenge on the terrorist who killed his fiancée. For the first third of the movie, the film loosely follows the book. Then it digresses into Hollywood Pap.

There’s a lot of action and a lot of silly fights and the pace keeps up. There is one unnecessary segment of fairly graphic torture.

Flynn’s books were out of the ordinary which is why I and lots of others liked them. But this film has nothing in it that separates it from the standard Jason Bourne thriller; if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. I stretched to rate this 7/10, but don’t think that Vince Flynn would be pleased with this vapid, unoriginal rendering of his book at all, especially the way they changed it.

I imagine that this film will do fairly good box office. If it does, I also imagine that Dylan O’Brien will be back for a sequel or two, and that would be fine with me. I just hope they get a different director and a different writer and stay closer to the book they are filming. Then they might get closer to the uniqueness of what Flynn created, which is what these guys missed.