“American Assassin”


            For those of us who have read the novel by Vince Flynn, No, the movie isn't the same as the book.  The characters are similar, but their development and interaction are much different.  That said, the movie is still a compelling spy yarn, even if there are some plot holes, and loose ends left dangling.

            Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) is first shown as a lover boy on the beach, proposing to his beautiful girlfriend at a swanky resort. She happily accepts.  The lovebirds are joyously exhilirated, until suddenly disaster strikes:  a seeminly random terrorist attack.  Black-clad gunmen mow down hapless vacationing civilians.  Because they can.  And because their goal is to strike fear into the hearts of the infidel.

            Somehow, Mitch Rapp survives being gunned down, but his fiancee doesn't.  Thus begins his focused, determined, and lonely journey toward personal revenge.  They ask him to leave at the martial arts gym, because he's so relentless.  Yes, he applies to a certain clandestine government agency, but soon learns that their ponderous methods are too restrictive for him.  On his own, he manages to find a terrorist cell by pretending to want to join them.  But the CIA has followed his movements, and foiled his personal revenge mission.  The Assistant Defense Secretary, in charge of counter-terrorism, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) personally picks Mitch Rapp for a top-secret group called Orion.  But first he must undergo the rigorous training, under a grizzled old operative named Hurley (Michael Keaton).

            The big test comes when the CIA learns that certain terrorists have gotten hold of some old Russian weapons-grade plutonium, and are actively seeking equipment to convert it to a bomb, as well as a compromised physicist willing to do that, for the right price.  Orion's “mission impossible” is to stop them.

            Now we are led on a dizzying tour of exitic locales, from Libya to Istanbul to Rome, while our super-spies plan their intervention.  Yes, there's violence.  And of course there are chase scenes in fast cars.  And some genteel viewers may not have the stomach for the depictions of personal torture.  Naturally, there are good guys and bad guys, and we're mostly clear about which ones, but there's always the surprise double agent.  And then there's the collateral damage.

            In the end, we'd all like to know that there might be an American operative like Mitch Rapp, who is smart, resourceful, determined, and highly skilled, and has enough sense not to make himself vulnerable through emotional entanglements.  The bad news is that emotion is largely absent from this sequence of cold-blooded violence.  No sense of humor, either.  And certainly no love, other than lost.  “American Assassin” is slick and exciting, but also graceless, and devoid of moral compass.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Did you have mentors?  What were their methods for you to “learn the trade”?

2)                  Which terrorists are most dangerous to Americans? To Europeans?

3)                  Should we have “counter-terrorism operatives”?  Should other countries?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association