Michael Keaton and Dylan O’Brien star in this gritty espionage thriller. Although it may look like gun toting action fodder, ‘American Assassin’ is quite a sophisticated movie with a serious message.
The intro is brutal, raw and sudden. The audience are lured into a false sense of security. You fall into the relaxed holiday environment, focussing on the dialogue where the protagonist is ordering a drink. The first gunshot shatters the illusion of safety.
It is a shock even when you have read the synopsis. The following events are grisly and violent, but necessary. The terrorist attack sets Mitch on a journey which ultimately imparts an important message to the viewer.
Furthermore, the story takes place in a real context which makes for a greater feeling of stakes. The Coens are very familiar with that technique.
‘American Assassin’ has a very rich story and a strong theme of revenge. The message is that revenge is a slippery slope, you can lose yourself in darkness and become what you despise. This is what makes the shocking violence necessary.
The relationships between characters bring the situation to life and drive the message home. The dynamic between Mitch, Ghost and Stan illustrates Mitch’s internal conflict.
Mitch is highly emotional, Stan is cold and analytical. Ghost represents the qualities Mitch has in their extremes. The darkness and drive in Mitch could take him down one of two paths. He could become Stan or Ghost.
It is a compelling idea that the team are chasing one of Stan’s previous students who has gone rogue. Taylor Kitsch is a ‘ghost’ of Stan’s past, he is reluctant to train Mitch because he has seen what he could become.
The development of Mitch is put across to the audience, not just by the writing but also Dylan O’Brien’s superb acting. His pain and struggle with internal darkness is written on his face. However, by the film’s conclusion he has resolved some of his mental struggle, which O’Brien outwardly projects also.
Despite the grounded nature of the setup, the film can become far-fetched at times. The directing makes sure it never feels absurd in these more theatrical moments. The third act is very well shot, particularly the scene inside the tunnels. The use of camera work and lighting adds a level of drama, intensity to the action.
‘American Assassin’ brings depth and sophisticated storytelling to the action genre.