Friday, 20 October 2017

AMERICAN ASSASSIN : Tuesday 17th October 2017

'AMERICAN ASSASSIN' which I finally got around to seeing earlier this week is an action thriller based on series of books written by Vince Flynn, with 'American Assassin' being published in 2010. Although it is not the first book in the series of sixteen so far, rather the eleventh, it is a prequel novel that establishes Mitch Rapp as the main character cementing his back story and how he ultimately comes to be an undercover CIA Counter Terrorism Agent. Rapp's primary focus is uncovering and undermining terrorist attacks on the US, and he is an aggressive, opinionated Agent prepared to take measures that are more extreme than might be usually deemed commonly acceptable. His ongoing frustration with procedures, policy and red tape is a major theme throughout the entire series. Vince Flynn died in June 2013 aged 47, and ongoing books in the series are written by Kyle Mills. Antoine Fuqua was originally brought on to Direct, when CBS acquired the movie rights to the series of books back in 2008. Then Edward Zwick was announced to Direct, then Jeffrey Nachmanoff and finally Michael Cuesta, who delivers this film released in the US and Australia in mid-September at a budgeted cost of US$33M having taken as at mid-October US$55M. The lead character of Mitch Rapp was originally offered to Chris Hemsworth back in 2012 for US$10M but he turned it down due to scheduling conflicts. Then came along Gerard Butler, Matthew Fox and Colin Farrell with a much younger Dylan O'Brien being offered the gig in 2016.

And so this origin story potentially setting up a film franchise (think 'Jason Bourne' and 'Jack Reacher') introduces us to Mitch Rapp (Dylan O'Brien) who was orphaned at the age of fourteen when his parents were killed tragically in a car accident, and who in later years proposes marriage to his girlfriend only for her to be gunned down and killed moments later in a beachside Islamist terrorist attack somewhere on the Spanish coast. We then fast forward eighteen months, and now at the age of 23 Rapp is seeking revenge, and has been in training ever since that fateful day waiting to come face to face with the terrorists responsible.

Rapp uses his apartment as a makeshift gym to train hard and get super fit. He also uses it to frequent an Internet message board linked to the terrorist cell responsible for his girlfriends death. He is repeatedly quizzed about his knowledge of Islam and jihad to test his resolve to join forces with the cell in opposition of the US oppressor. He is granted a face to face meeting with the terrorist leader in which he aims to single handedly take out the cell - such has been the extent of his own self-training and preparedness over the last year or so. He arrives in Tripoli, is blindfolded and taken to a secret meeting point where he is tied to a chair. His blindfold is removed and his girlfriends killer sits in front of him. Before he can execute his own plan, the terrorist killer is shot through the head and US Special Forces descend on the building wiping out all those terrorist types in attendance. Rapp is angered by the fact that he was denied the opportunity to exact his vengeance out on the terrorist leader himself and repeatedly stabs the lifeless body before being man handled outta there by US soldiers.

Next we cut to a CIA Safe House in which Rapp has been holed up for questioning and observation for thirty days. Here Deputy CIA Director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) recognises Rapp's particular set of special skills which she describes as being 'off the chart' and as such a prime candidate for a Black Op's unit codenamed Orion.

Rapp is assigned to further training in the back woods of Virginia at the hands of former US Navy SEAL Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton) who is also a veteran of the Cold War, and well versed in all matters relating to covert operations, Black Op's, and deadly close quarter combat. He spends the following weeks training Rapp and other recruits in his ways - some of which succeed while many fall by the wayside and don't have what it takes.

Meanwhile, word filters down through intelligence channels to Kennedy and her superior, Director Thomas Stansfield (David Suchet) that weapons grade nuclear material has gone missing from a decommissioned Russian nuclear facility. The nuclear material appears to be en route to Iranian militants, who are none to pleased with their government's nuclear deal with the U.S.

Meanwhile, in a busy city square somewhere in Poland hiding in plain sight, while finalising the sale of the nuclear material, the plutonium is intercepted by a third party, who eliminates the sellers before disappearing into the crowd. Back in Virginia, Hurley sees television news footage about the incident in Poland and identifies the perpetrator as a former Navy SEAL and Orion operative believed to have been killed in action and now going by the codename 'Ghost' (Taylor Kitsch). Hurley's team, with latest recruit Rapp, is sent to Turkey to intercept the buyer 'Ghost' is working for.

In Istanbul, looking to conduct a quick sting operation to capture the buyer, Hurley's team now also joined by a deep undercover Orion Agent named Annika (Shiva Negar) is rumbled, and the attempted intercept of the all important trigger device is foiled. Rapp chases the buyer to his apartment, and after thwarting his bodyguard kills him too, and removes his laptop computer. The information they are able to download leads the team to Rome, where they identify the nuclear physicist necessary to craft the nuclear material into a functional nuclear device. While in Rome, Rapp comes to realise that Annika is an Iranian foreign agent. She tries to explain that she is working for the mainstream Iranian faction attempting to stop the hardline militants from acquiring nuclear capability, but is taken into CIA custody, and seen now as a threat. During a meeting between Hurley and an Iranian contact (Annika's uncle), Ghost ambushes them, kills the contact and captures Hurley.

At a CIA safe house in Rome, Annika is being moved under guard by two agents when Rapp intercepts the car she is travelling in and frees her. Recognising that with Hurley now captured the mission is now compromised and handed over to the CIA to work through, and his services are no longer required. However, Rapp has his own rebellious plans, and so working with Annika they locate the makeshift subterranean nuclear laboratory that Ghost and his team are using to complete the nuclear device. After secretly securing access to the tunnels, Rapp locates and frees a badly injured Hurley having been tortured by Ghost using a vice, a blowtorch, a pair of pliers and live electrical current.

In an explosion engineered by Rapp, Ghost is able to effect his getaway with the now armed nuclear device having taken out all of his team that weren't killed by the explosion. Annika is, however, captured by Ghost and she kills herself with his gun before he escapes onto a boat with the now counting down nuclear device. Based on an earlier conversation, Hurley deduces that Ghost intends to make a suicide attack against the U.S. Navy's Sixth Fleet which are engaged in exercises somewhere off the coast, based on his desire to die at sea.

Just as Ghosts boat is leaving the dockside, Rapp chases after it and leaps onto the deck. The two are engaged in close quarter hand to hand combat while being tossed about the cabin below deck as the boat gathers speed across a choppy sea. Eventually good overcomes evil and Rapp kills Ghost, leaving Rapp in control of a speeding boat with an armed nuclear weapon on board, and no way of disabling it. By now Hurley has been picked up by Navy helicopter and is following Rapp from the air. The Sixth Fleet are under orders to prepare for a nuclear detonation. Hurley, using a loudhailer calls down to Rapp to toss the nuclear device overboard, as they all stand a better chance of survival if the explosion occurs underwater. Rapp does so, and with a thirty or so second count down Rapp is airlifted onto the helicopter with Hurley, and off they fly in the opposite direction. Within seconds the nuclear device detonates causing a massive tsunami that inundates the Sixth Fleet ships, although they all mostly survive the blast to sail another day.

This is a fairly pedestrian by the numbers spy type thriller that we have seen executed just as well, if not better, hundreds of times before, usually by a gentlemen named Jason, Jack, James or John (read Bourne, Reacher, Bond and Wick respectively). The action when it comes is fast paced and well executed; but the plot treads familiar boards; the relationships between Rapp, Hurley and Kennedy are by the book; and it becomes all too predictable as it wears on. O'Brien and Keaton give solid enough performances and at well under two hours running time the film doesn't outstay its welcome. Given the closing scene of this film, and the fact that there are another fifteen books in the series so far, it is likely that we haven't seen the last of Mitch Rapp.

-Steve, at Odeon Online-

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