On the surface, "American Assassin" is your classic espionage/counter-terrorism action movie. Underneath that is a fast-paced thriller exploring loss, terror, revenge, and the very thin line between being a good guy or a bad guy. The performances by Dylan O'Brien (Mitch Rapp) and Michael Keaton (Stan Hurley) bring Vince Flynn's characters to life in an adaptation that die-hard Flynn fans are applauding.

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Review

What makes the film so effective - besides the great performances - is the smart pace and balance of plot, action, and character development. This is set up beautifully in the introduction of the movie, in which we see Mitch Rapp's happy life with fiancee Katrina before his world is torn apart.

After watching the first trailer before the film released, I was concerned with how quick the devastating scene of Rapp losing his fiancee would play out. I was pleasantly surprised that the writers and director Michael Cuesta allowed enough time for the audience to dive into this deep love Rapp and Katrina had for each other without spending too much time on it as well. It was perfectly balanced, giving enough screen time to connect with the happy couple (and helping the audience to understand Rapp's motivations and PTSD for the rest of the movie) before everything turns bloody.

The way the creators broke up that serene day on the beach was done in an unsettling, realistic way. In movies, you get used to music building up a scene, for example, that telegraphs something scary or bad is about to happen. In real life, we don't usually receive those signs: often times terrible things just happen. One minute Rapp is grabbing a couple drinks for himself and the love of his life, and the next second, without any warning at all, the bartender is shot in the face right in front of him and all hell breaks loose as men storm the beach with gunfire.

People are being murdered left and right as Mitch desperately tries to find Katrina, sustaining a couple bullet wounds along the way. Not only does he not get to her in time, but he's forced to watch her execution right in front of him. As this moment works as Rapp's entire motivation for wanting to find and "kill people that need to be killed," it was important that it create a visceral response for the audience.

The entire sequence is horrifying, suffocating, and ultimately devastating, which helps the audience to connect with Rapp's anger, whether you agree with his actions or not.

Eighteen months after the murder of his fiancee, Rapp has effectively trained himself in mixed martial arts and how to infiltrate terror cells in order to get revenge on not only the terrorist who killed Katrina but the "scum" he wants the world to be rid of.

His intelligence and talent are too much for CIA Deputy director, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) to pass up. She recruits Rapp to join former Navy SEAL Stan Hurley's black ops program, Orion. As Kennedy explains to Hurley, they need more agents like Rapp who haven't had military training because they will blend in better when undercover. Kennedy's theory proves sound, as O'Brien's performance of Rapp showcases how he can seamlessly merge into civilization by the way he walks, talks, and acts like just another civilian; because, despite his knowledge and training, he is. Hurley and the Orion program adopt a vigilante to provide him a better skill-set as well as to teach him how to control his anger, too. Sometimes that rage, when left unchecked, can lead to overkill or unnecessary mistakes. is meant to train him as well as to teach him how to control his anger, too. The balance that exists in Rapp's character of being a newly trained assassin while still maintaining pieces of his old self underneath the layers of revenge, anger, and trauma is all due to O'Brien's brilliant portrayal of the character.

Dylan definitely threw himself into this role, including extensive fight and gun training that are showcased in incredible action sequences in the movie. Besides the stunts, Dylan has always exhibited strong emotional acting and he utilized those skills beautifully in this film. When we first meet Mitch Rapp after the beach scene, he is barely contained rage. He goes overboard in a sparring session at an MMA gym; moments later, we witness some of that uncontrolled aggression when Mitch is walking down a busy street and someone accidentally bumps into his shoulder passing by. Mitch doesn't go after the guy, but there is a glimmer of anger that passes over his face even for the briefest moment that shows how much he wanted to. The emotions in O'Brien's eyes and face are always on point, even in the moments when he has to be a stone-cold killer. According to Thrillist, Dylan explains that he was drawn to Mitch Rapp's character because he felt it "was believable and strong and emotional."

What's interesting about his anger and determination to kill is that there are brief moments we get to see the old Rapp within Dylan's performance. He's darker than the boy we see at the beginning of the film and obviously more deadly, but while parts of him have changed there are still pieces that exist of that old Rapp. He speaks nicely with his landlord, kindly greets the fellow agents when they land in Rome, even allows himself to open up a bit to CIA operative Annika (Shiva Negar). We even see him joke around with Hurley towards the end of the movie, cracking rare a smile. Becoming an assassin or desiring revenge on top of his PTSD didn't destroy the good in Rapp. He is quick to show his dislike of Hurley's teachings that when a fellow Orion agent is killed, they cease to exist. Or, if one becomes captured, they're essentially on their own. For example, while he and fellow team member, Victor, didn't get along, Rapp still shows a bit of mourning at his death. When Rapp discovers that Annika is a double agent, he unleashes some rage, but he chooses not to kill her when he easily could have. He shows restraint, whether due to Hurley's training or because of a connection he felt with her. Either way, it's a huge moment for him. While some of his actions may be cold-blooded, Rapp is more than just a badass, angry killer. He's complex and layered, which is part of why he resonates so much with fans.

O'Brien and Keaton (who also gave a superb performance as Hurley) play off of each other well. The two actors maintained a fun chemistry throughout, their banter and relationship being one of my favorite elements of the movie.

An action movie is only as good as its villain, and Taylor Kitsch's Ghost was an engaging one. Arguably his character might be cliche or predictable, but it's Ghost's motivations paralleled to Rapp's that make him so interesting. Ghost is angry with Hurley because he feels that the man presented himself as a father figure when he trained him in the Orion program, and then abandoned him. According to Hurley, it was Ghost's own bad choices that allowed himself to be caught and nearly get a couple dozen other soldiers killed, but Ghost feels completely betrayed. His anger and desire for revenge (and even his resistance of Hurley's ideology about Orion ops members being left behind if captured) are very similar to Rapp's own story. Obviously, the biggest difference is that Ghost is unafraid to kill innocent people while Rapp only wants to kill the people like Ghost.

At one point, Hurley warns Rapp about killing and what they do: "The moment it starts to feel good, you stop being a professional. Then where does that leave you?" This feels like a reference to Ghost and how he went down the wrong path. If so, it's what Hurley doesn't want Rapp to become. While it's never specifically brought up, I'm sure at some point it must have crossed Hurley's mind that training someone like Rapp with his violent history and tendencies, as well as his rebellious attitude, could be dangerous. When Rapp and Ghost come face to face for the final time, Ghost even refers to him as "little brother," because of his viewpoint on the Orion black ops program and Hurley's position as the "father." Any doubt that Hurley has about Rapp (or internal comparisons he made between Mitch and Ghost) are dashed by the end of the film by Rapp's undying loyalty and rescue mission, leading Hurley himself to breaking one of his rules in order to save Mitch.

On top of all that, the epic action sequences alone were enough to leave me wanting more. The action was always full of high energy and excitement, especially some of the clever tracking shots used throughout. One of my favorite techniques was the blood splatter on the camera lens that would occur randomly from punches, gunshots, or stab wounds. The explosion at the end was also done well, in my opinion. I was worried they were going to complete the climactic moment with everyone in the U.S. fleet unscathed, but many of the ships were damaged, especially the USS Flynn (named for the late author). One of the captains implies that there were likely some casualties, but Rapp's efforts prevent mass casualties among the entire fleet. While I am not a nuclear weapons expert and cannot say whether or not Mitch and Hurley's plan to ditch the bomb in the water would play out the way it did, I like that there was some fallout and damage instead of everyone getting away without a scratch. It felt more plausible, versus other action movies I've seen that left me scratching my head at the end.

Admittedly, I haven't read any of the Mitch Rapp series yet, though this film ensured I will be checking the books out. So while I can't necessarily speak to the adaptation, I know some die-hard Mitch Rapp and Vince Flynn fans who can:

Dylan and the entire "American Assassin" crew appreciate all of the fan's love and support for the film:

Mitch Rapp's future

As I mentioned before, the movie has a quick pace that I love. The development of each character occurs throughout the film, and we are given the pieces we need to know to play along with the story while understanding that there is more to each character shown that we still want to learn about. The brilliance of this is the possibilities of sequels: there are 16 books written in the Mitch Rapp series so far, which has been continued by author Kyle Mills in Flynn's place after the original author died in 2013. There's no indication if they will be adapting every single book, but there is a strong possibility of a sequel or trilogy. Those sequels would allow us to explore the characters even more; it's like this one (which was actually written initially as an origin story for Rapp and not the first one Vince Flynn wrote in the series) gives the audience an exciting tease with a few layers peeled back into those stories. Fans will certainly be wanting more.

The film has received many rave reviews from critics and fans alike. With a $33 million budget, the movie is projected to earn $15.5 million in its debut weekend, giving it a strong start at the box office. It feels likely we'll be seeing more of O'Brien's Mitch Rapp on the big screen in the future.

During a recent interview, Dylan even mentioned that he has already signed on for at least two more Mitch Rapp films if those sequels are made.

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