The late Vince Flynn wrote thirteen Mitch Rapp novels until his untimely death at the age of 47. The series was continued by his friend, and fellow author, Kyle Mills who is still writing them to this day. American Assassin seems a sensible place to start a potential new franchise as, although it was written as the eleventh book in the series, it’s a prequel charting the beginnings of Mitch Rapp’s rise to the top of the CIA’s covert anti-terrorism programme.
Opening with an horrific terrorist attack on a picturesque beach, Mitch’s (Dylan O’Brien) life is thrown into turmoil as his fiancée of only a few moments old is brutally murdered in front of him. Left for dead, Mitch begins a one-man mission to seek revenge on those responsible.
Eighteen months later, an angry Mitch (we know he’s angry because it’s rammed down our throats a little too much through a series of violent episodes and even a telling off from his landlord) has managed to infiltrate a terror cell, which is, worryingly, something the CIA couldn’t manage with all their resources. Rapp is headhunted by Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) of the CIA to join their elite anti-terrorism squad known as Orion.
Not convinced by Rapp’s abilities and his tendency to disobey orders, Mitch is reluctantly trained up by ex-Navy Seal, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), and the team set out to prevent a nuclear war after one of Hurley’s old prodigies gets his grubby little mitts on some uranium. What follows is a frenetic race against time and some good ol’ fashion cat and mouse chases.
O’Brien is a charismatic and capable lead, portraying the young Rapp’s arrogant naivety and thirst for revenge with coolness and style, and when Michael Keaton’s grizzled military veteran joins the story things really kick off. Hurley is pretty much Mitch Rapp with a bus pass. His gruff, experienced no nonsense attitude combines perfectly with Rapp’s youthful exuberance and the pair have terrific chemistry together.
Shiva Negar impresses as Annika, an ally of Mitch and Stan’s. Excellent in the action scenes, it would have been nice to have seen more of her character during the film and the same could be said of David Suchet who has a couple of scenes as CIA Director Thomas Stansfield.
The film is very gung-ho and you can almost hear the chants of, “USA, USA, USA” echoing from cinemas in certain parts of America, but that’s an accurate reflection of the books. They’re very much America versus the terrorists. Vince Flynn was a Republican and not afraid to let it show. This makes for some cheesy dialogue at times, “Out there you’re a ghost. You don’t exist!”, but I expected this and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. It’s extremely difficult to write about this subject matter without throwing in a few clichés.
The fight scenes, although nothing new, are well choreographed and very Bourne-esque in their delivery. The cinematography and costume colours change from bright and vivacious to grey and flaccid reflecting the change in Mitch’s personality after the death of his fiancée. Indeed, the only bright colour I remember seeing for the majority of the film was blood red, and there was an awful lot of it as Mitch Rapp double-taps his way through the enemy.
American Assassin does have its flaws. Why on earth would you select a trainee that’s just had a hissy-fit and thrown his toys out of his pram after failing miserably in an Artificial Intelligence inspired test to lead a high risk mission the next day?! The plot is a little flimsy, Taylor Kitsch is a paint by numbers baddy and the finale relies too much on CGI, but there was just enough energy, excitement and entertainment to look forward to a sequel. Dylan O’Brien has apparently signed on for more Rapp films, but I’m not too sure the box office takings will allow that.
If you enjoyed American Assassin, have a look at Vince Flynn’s books. Political thrillers don’t get much better. 24 meets The West Wing. What’s not to like? You may also enjoy Brad Thor, Ben Coes, Marc Cameron, Brad Taylor and Rick Jones.
Film reviewer for Time and Leisure Magazine, The Movie Waffler and We Are Cult.
Former actor (a regular in The Bill) and voiceover artist with Rhubarb Voices.