Saturday, 22 February 2020

Movie review: American Assassin, dir Michael Cuesta (2017)

This action thriller has the lot, from a car-chase in Rome to a nuclear device stolen from a Russian arms repository. It starts out with a terrorist attack on a Thai beach (shades here of Michel Houellebecq’s ‘Platform’, which came out in 2001) and involves plenty of choreographed hand-to-hand fighting.

Michael Keaton does well as Stan Hurley, a grizzled CIA operative who takes a nondescript Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) under his wing to prepare him for operations in the field. Mitch’s loss of his fiancĂ©e on that Thai beach has led to him being personally involved in what he does, so he’s a bit of a loose cannon. I haven’t seen O’Brien in any similar movies and I wonder why, though I wait to be surprised.

This movie has plenty of reliable elements, and Sanaa Latham is serviceable as a CIA manager, while a wooden David Suchet (from the Agatha Christie movies) plays the CIA’s director in the same style as Sidney Poitier does for the FBI in the execrable ‘The Jackal’ (1997, a Bruce Willis vehicle).

‘American Assassin’ is pure genre and has quotes within quotes. There are a few novel twists in what is mainly a predictable plot, which revolves around Iran trying to get a nuclear warhead to use against Israel. Annika (Shiva Negar), whose function appears late in the movie but who kicks some ass in the meantime, is also a loose cannon. To cap off the pizzazz, the movie even has a battle formation: the US Sixth Fleet off the coast of Italy. The special effects used to make these scenes are engrossing.

The whole thing is Bond-like and fun, a piece of nationalistic exceptionalism that celebrates US power even as the aesthetic fatigue you feel at the use of tired tropes removes the sting. While harmless, the movie has some unpleasant violence.

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