‘American Assassin’ Deserves Better At The Box Office

Based off of the book series by Vince Flynn, ‘American Assassin’ follows Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) after he suffers a tragic loss: his girlfriend is brutally murdered on a beach during a terrorist attack right before his eyes. Her death fuels him to relentlessly train himself to infiltrate an overseas terrorist organization, but his mission for vengeance draws the eyes of the CIA and ultimately he’s recruited by them instead.

Having been a long-time fan of O’Brien, I was personally excited to see him on the big screen for yet another franchise, and he did not disappoint. A long ways away from MTV’s ‘Teen Wolf,’ ‘The Maze Runner’ series and comedies like ‘High Road’ and ‘The Internship’ (even stray rom-com ‘The First Time’), this was just another test of his acting abilities that he passed with flying colors. Charismatic and intense, he effortlessly leads even when he’s not being directly featured.

As someone not familiar with the books myself, I had worried Mitch Rapp would be a carbon copy of the usual Bond-Bourne-Bauer type, but he had a realistic edge to him; he wasn’t necessarily always cold, hard and unfeeling, qualities which can sometimes make it hard to root for your own protagonist, but when he was, it made sense.

O’Brien goes above and beyond in ‘American Assassin’ — there’s no question that he has what it takes to make future installments just as compelling as he made this, should CBS decide to flesh out Mitch’s story (the film did arguably well for itself in the box office, considering it saw its release the same weekend as ‘IT’ and ‘Kingsman: The Golden Circle,’ so CBS may want to). Up against greats like Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan and Taylor Kitsch, he held his own incredibly well. He proves he has the range to be the goofy comedic relief, the romantic lead and a take-no-prisoners action star.

That said, apart from the cast’s undeniable acting chops — that scene with Keaton and Kitsch was crazyintense, you’ll know it when you see it, and every scene with Lathan? Please — the story was fairly cut-and-dried. It isn’t hard to predict where it’ll go at any given time (although it’s possible that could be down to the fact I was following news about the film more closely than a casual viewer). There might have been a twist or a turn that I didn’t expect, but more in the sense that I wasn’t expecting how it played out.

Granted, that doesn’t make it lesser. It’s still entertaining, if a bit slow at times. Without spoiling too much, the third act definitely goes from 0 to 100 — so quickly you almost miss the payoff you were patiently waiting for before. I personally would have liked to have seen more of Annika (Shiva Negar), as she elevated so much of what was given to her, but her and Rapp (O’Brien) got in a few great scenes before her last one. Side note: it was so refreshing not to have a romantic side story shoved at us, though I realized if we had to have one, I would’ve hoped for one between those two.

All the action-packed scenes more than make up for that, though. The stunts were incredible, and again, as a long-time fan, it made me feel like a proud mother watching O’Brien absolutely dominate everything (that Black Widow thigh choke though). I also appreciated that any close-ups weren’t jarring, haphazard zooms à la ‘Jason Bourne’ in 2016, and while some of the dialogue seemed a little clunky, it wasn’t too distracting and played off well enough.

One concern of mine leading up to the release, however, was the obvious elephant in the room: the Islamic terrorists story line.

I spoke to a number of people who were either hesitant to watch the film, or downright refused to, based on the assumption that this would be another film targeting Islam with the potential to incite more prejudice against Muslims and Muslim Americans. I understand the books were set sometime in the ’80s or ’90s, prompting production to tweak the story in order to make it more relevant to today — but in reality, the focus was never truly on the Islamic terrorist group. It’s made clear that those involved are extremists not indicative of the whole faith. This film is in no way promoting Islamophobia, and in fact — spoiler — the terrorist group is hardly featured at all. Coming from someone who was wary since the first trailer, everything is handled remarkably well.

‘American Assassin’ is…

Director Michael Cuesta went to workon this, and I honestly believe he struck gold with something special, something that can still be expounded upon through some sequels. No, Mitch Rapp is not of the same caliber as James Bond or Jason Bourne; he’s not even meant to be a hero. Yet. His story is his own, and it’s clear that while he’s an extremely capable character, this first film just goes to show he was also extremely lucky to get out by the skin of his teeth.

Rapp, while a prodigy, is still new at this, which is what makes ‘American Assassin’ so much better than expected. I don’t particularly want to watch another middle-aged man jump from boats and buildings as if that’s somehow more realistic — I want to watch someone who’s still young and learning the ropes (from Michael Keaton’s Stan Hurley, no less), who still makes mistakes and struggles and who still has a long way to go.

In other words, give me more!

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