Hits the mark with thrills and spills


WHILE the world con­tem­plates a nu­cle­ar­armed North Korea, you may wonder if a thriller about a rogue nuke is the sort of en­ter­tain­ment peo­ple seek. When it’s as faux-po­lit­i­cal as Amer­i­can As­sas­sin, the an­swer just might be yes.

Built for ac­tion, like its ti­tle char­ac­ter, the movie packs a mus­cu­lar, bloody punch, but mainly it’s a well-oiled di­ver­sion.

Di­rec­tor Michael Cuesta, op­er­at­ing more in the vein of his work on Home­land than such fea­tures as LIE and Kill the Mes­sen­ger, proves de ft at or­ches­trat­ing large-scale se­quences.

The globe-hop­ping story of covert US oper­a­tives ze­ro­ing in on ter­ror­ist fac­tions and renegade mer­ce­nar­ies aims to sep­a­rate it­self from other pop­corn spy thrillers based on air­port nov­els. Yet even with its mas­ter­ful set pieces and Michael Keaton’s fe­ro­ciously en­joy­able turn as a bad-ass CIA trainer, chances are that you’ll have stopped think­ing about it by the time you exit the cin­ema.

A beefed-up Dy­lan O’Brien, of The Maze Run­ner films and the se­ries Teen Wolf, steps into a po­ten­tial new fran­chise role in this ori­gin story of black-ops re­cruit Mitch Rapp, the main char­ac­ter in more than a dozen nov­els by the late Vince Flynn.

In the open­ing se­quence he’s a young man be­side him­self with hap­pi­ness as he pro­poses to his girl­friend, Ka­t­rina (Char­lotte Vega), dur­ing their hol­i­day on Ibiza.

With an over­cast tint to the sea­side sun­light and a ner­vous charge to the cam­era work, Cuesta ex­pertly turns this hope­ful scene into one that’s fraught with dread from the get-go. It ends in a blood­bath, dozens of beach-go­ers mowed down by Uzi-wield­ing gun­men. Among the dead is Rapp’s fi­ancée.

O’Brien con­vinc­ingly con­veys the change in Rapp when we next see him, a year-and-a-half later. Hav­ing quit his grad­u­ate stud­ies in or­der to de­vote him­self to aveng­ing Ka­t­rina’s mur­der, he’s a man filled with pur­pose and yet hol­lowed out.

He’s taught him­self marks­man­ship and mar­tial arts as well as Ara­bic, so when he in­fil­trates the Libyan cell of Mansur (Shahid Ahmed), the group re­spon­si­ble for Ka­t­rina’s death,

US in­tel­li­gence has been watch­ing him closely enough to swoop in for his longed-for kill. Then they swoop in for Rapp.

Though the CIA di­rec­tor (David Suchet) has his doubts, his counter-ter­ror­ism chief, Irene Kennedy – the epit­ome of cool, tough com­po­sure in Sanaa Lathan’s per­for­mance – deems Rapp just the ticket for the in­ner sanc­tum of covert op­er­a­tions.

Or­phaned as a teenager and de­prived of his life part­ner, he has the per­fect psy­cho­log­i­cal pro­file she seeks in a killing ma­chine.

The vi­o­lence per­co­lat­ing in­side him is so bound­less that he doesn’t know how to chan­nel it, which gets him kicked out of his gym for pum­mel­ing a wrestling part­ner.

En­ter CIA trainer Stan Hur­ley (Keaton), a gruff ex-Navy Seal who runs a boot camp in the Vir­ginia woods. Putting the gusto in sadism, Hur­ley de­lights in re­ar­rang­ing the ex­pec­ta­tions of over­con­fi­dent whip­per-snappers like Rapp.

The pound­ings get tired, but a vir­tual re­al­ity train­ing ses­sion is a pretty nifty bit of spy craft.

Cuesta makes seam­less work of de­mand­ing, high-in­ten­sity ac­tion se­quences in the midst of crowded city cen­tres in­clud­ing War­saw, Is­tan­bul and Rome (only the lat­ter was an ac­tual pro­duc­tion lo­ca­tion) and in more pri­vate quar­ters, like a high­rise apart­ment.

A cli­mac­tic show­down on the sea, in­volv­ing a speed­boat, he­li­copter and the US fleet, com­bines ace vis­ual ef­fects with live ac­tion for a near-dis­as­ter of chill­ing, thrilling pro­por­tions.

Those thrills are the movie’s true sub­ject; though there are men­tions of the US-Iran nu­clear deal and a geopo­lit­i­cal hotspot or two, its con­cern is a sort of free-float­ing dan­ger, dressed in recog­nis­able na­tional gen­er­al­i­ties.

Dy­lan O’Brien as black-ops re­cruit Mitch Rapp and Sanaa Lathan as CIA Deputy Di­rec­tor Irene Kennedy in Amer­i­can As­sas­sin. Right, Michael Keaton plays a hard­core CIA trainer.

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