For a review of “Amer­i­can As­sas­sin,”

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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 “TeenWolf” 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 ji­hadi in or­der to in­fil­trate a ter­ror cell, is rather fas­ci­nat­ing, a por­trait of reck­less young male en­ergy chan­neled 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 camp­mar­shalled by spe­cial forces trainer Stan Hur­ley ( an off- leash Michael Keaton). There, he molds his charges into killing ma­chines via bru­tal bouts of fisticuffs in the woods, vir­tual re­al­ity taser shootouts and ex­tremely ag­gro ma­cho pos­tur­ing.

Hur­ley sub­scribes to an ex­treme form of train­ing that’s in­tended to ham­mer out all emo­tion from his young pro­teges. He trig­gers Mitch’s trauma over and over again while shout­ing, “You let emo­tion cloud your judg­ment! Never let it get per­sonal!” In Hur­ley’s world, this toxic mas­culin­ity, which shuns any ex­pres­sion of emo­tion or ef­fect, is a way to get closer to rea­son and pur­pose through vi­o­lence and de­hu­man­iza­tion. Mitch is just too emo­tional for that, go­ing rogue on a mis­sion in Is­tan­bul, reck­lessly act­ing on im­pulse.

As we come to dis­cover, Hur­ley’s meth­ods have some pit­falls. The trauma he in­flicts on oth­ers doesn’t al­ways re­sult in per­fect killing au­toma­tons — some­times it re­sults in deeply dam­aged and dan­ger­ous men, like Ghost ( Tay­lor Kitsch). And as it turns out, Mitch’s emo­tional mo­ti­va­tions for his work do make him a bet­ter as­sas­sin, if that’s even a good thing.

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 vi­o­lent ly wa­ter board 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 val­oriza­tion and le­git­i­ma­tion of psy­cho­pathic men, murderers who are pre­sented here as he­roes do­ing of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment work. It’s what “Amer­i­can As­sas­sin” re­flects about our cul­ture that is far more chill­ing than any­thing in the story it­self.

“Amer­i­can As­sas­sin,” a CBS Films re­lease, is rated R for lan­guage, vi­o­lence and nu­dity. Run­ning time: 111 min­utes. ½


It’s the house­guests from hell in writer- di­rec­tor Darren Aronof­sky’s lat­est film, the bonkers “mother!” star­ring Jen­nifer Lawrence and Javier Bar­dem as a cou­ple liv­ing in an iso­lated, ram­bling coun­try house, who have to con­tend with some ram­bunc­tious in­vaders.

Based off the trailer and poster, many have sur­mised that this is Aronof­sky’s trib­ute to “Rose­mary’s Baby,” and there are sim­i­lar­i­ties: the waifish young blonde wife ( Lawrence), the ego­tis­ti­cal artist hus­band ( Bar­dem), the over­bear­ing older cou­ple ( Ed Har­ris and Michelle Pfeif­fer), whomake them­selves ath­ome de­spite the dis­com­fort of the sub­servient, pas­sive bride.

The films share char­ac­ter types and the theme of preg­nancy and par­ent­hood, but “mother!” is pos­sessed of a rau­cous, wild en­ergy that builds to a ri­otous crescendo, and the vil­lain here is not Satan, but unchecked hu­man­ity it­self. There’s more than enough evil to go around with the peo­ple who as­sem­ble in this home.

Cin­e­mat­i­cally, “mother!” is an ex­pertly ex­e­cuted wild ride. Aronof­sky keeps the au­di­ence fo­cused com­pletely on the sub­jec­tive ex­pe­ri­ence of Lawrence’s un­named young wife, as un­wanted guests in­vade her sanc­tu­ary, a huge, lone­lyVic­to­rian man­sion. The cam­era fol­lows her as she walks through­out the house, grants us ac­cess to her point of view, moves un­com­fort­ably close for nearly ab­stract close ups of the dewy planes of Lawrence’s face. The over­lap­ping sound de­sign is note per­fect. Foot­falls take on the tenor of gun­shots, voices sig­nal danger, and al­ways, she ex­pe­ri­ences an over­whelm­ing ring­ing in her ears.

Lawrence is re­mark­ably re­strained through­out the first two- thirds of the film, as the per­fect lit­tle wife too po­lite for her own good. She mod­u­lates her tone, and never gets mad enough at her rude in­trud­ers. When she fi­nally, fi­nally screams, “Get out of my house!” it’s a cathar­tic ex­pe­ri­ence for her, and the au­di­ence.

The film does go com­pletely off the rails at a point where you ex­pect it to end, af­ter all of its ex­haust­ing may­hem. But Aronof­sky pushes it com­pletely to the limit, drains ev­ery drop in the same way that his lead­ing lady does. Lawrence’s press tour has de­tailed the phys­i­cal chal­lenges and in­juries of this shoot, and Aronof­sky holds noth­ing back. There are some sick­en­ingly vi­o­lent images that are deeply un­com­fort­able to watch and toe the line of de­cency.

Crit­ic­swere pro­vided with a di­rec­tor’s state­ment to be read be­fore the film, elu­ci­dat­ing what was on Aronof­sky’s mind when he coughed up the screen­play for “mother!” over the course of five fever­ish days of writ­ing. But the best way to see this film is know­ing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble. When we’re clued into Aronof­sky’s thought process, it leads to a sense that his metaphor is a lit­tle too on­thenose as we plunge into the ab­so­lutely in­sane cli­max of the film.

How­ever, what makes “mother!” bril­liant is that it is open enough to read and project your own­ex­pe­ri­ences onto it, which makes it deeply per­sonal and uni­ver­sal. More than any metaphor about the state of the world, “mother!” is a film about be­ing in a re­la­tion­ship with a nar­cis­sist: some­one who takes and takes and takes all of your love down to the very last drop with­out ever giv­ing any­thing back. Any viewer can place their own ex­pe­ri­ences on top of this story, and ul­ti­mately, hope­fully, hon­estly con­sider what it fully means to give, and to take.

“Mother!”, a Para­mount Pic­tures re­lease, is rated R for strong dis­turb­ing vi­o­lent con­tent, some sex­u­al­ity, nu­dity and lan­guage. Run­ning time: 120 min­utes.


Jen­nifer Lawrence stars in the new Para­mount Pic­tures film “mother!”

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