Amer­i­can As­sas­sin

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Movies -

(★★✩✩✩)

WHAT role does emo­tion play in vi­o­lence? This is the rather high-minded philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion at the core of the rather schlocky spy picture Amer­i­can As­sas­sin though the film it­self doesn’t of­fer any clear an­swers on that. It’s dif­fi­cult to puz­zle out any morals about what mo­ti­vates vi­o­lence and how trauma man­i­fests when the film just leans into more and more numb­ingly graphic images of hu­man de­struc­tion.

Di­rected by Michael Cuesta with an ef­fi­cient bru­tal­ity, based on the book by Vince Flynn, with a script by Stephen Schiff, Michael Finch, Ed­ward Zwick and Mar­shall Her­skovitz, Amer­i­can As­sas­sin is like if the evening news threw up on a screen­play, or if ev­ery cur­rent event co­a­lesced into a sin­gle night­mare.

It starts with a mass shoot­ing, in­volves plenty of ex­plicit tor­ture, and ends with Navy de­stroy­ers in peril and nu­clear bombs in play. Es­capist, Amer­i­can As­sas­sin is not.

The scrap­pily ap­peal­ing Teen Wolf and Maze Run­ner star Dy­lan O’Brien stars as Mitch Rapp, a young man who loses ev­ery­thing in a ter­ror­ist at­tack and be­comes hell­bent on seek­ing revenge. The first third of the film, in which he poses as an Amer­i­can ex­trem­ist in or­der to in­fil­trate a ter­ror cell, is rather fas­ci­nat­ing, a por­trait of reck­less young male en­ergy chan­nelled in all the wrong ways for all the right rea­sons.

But soon, Mitch has been in­ter­cepted and re­cruited to the CIA, where he is taken to a top-se­cret, un­li­censed train­ing camp mar­shalled by spe­cial forces trainer Stan Hur­ley (an off-leash Michael Keaton). There, he moulds his charges into killing ma­chines via bru­tal bouts of fisticuffs in the woods, vir­tual re­al­ity taser shootouts, and ex­tremely ag­gro ma­cho pos­tur­ing.

Though moral ques­tions tum­ble around Amer­i­can As­sas­sin, the film it­self re­lies on so many cliches it can never be trusted to give a truly pro­found state­ment. Start­ing with a clas­sic “dead wife” home video, the film pro­ceeds through train­ing mon­tages and Bourne Iden­tity-style Euro­pean ops mis­sions, com­plete with a fe­male com­rade, An­nika (Shiva Ne­gar) to do the req­ui­site em­pa­thy and gen­tle wound dab­bing that’s so com­pletely hack­neyed by this point. Watch­ing O’Brien vi­o­lently wa­ter­board her later is not an ef­fec­tive way to up­end any fe­male stereo­types.

Ul­ti­mately, Amer­i­can As­sas­sin proves to be yet an­other ex­am­ple of Hol­ly­wood’s con­tin­ued valori­sa­tion and le­git­i­ma­tion of psy­cho­pathic men, murderers who are pre­sented here as he­roes do­ing of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment work.

It’s what Amer­i­can As­sas­sin re­flects about the Amer­i­can cul­ture that is far more chill­ing than any­thing in the story it­self. – Katie Walsh/Tri­bune News Ser­vice

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