Dylan O’Brien is Kind of A Badass in American Assassin
September 2017 sure was a month for being American at the box office. Of course, Tom Cruise‘s American Made got plenty of critical acclaims, but for my money, American Assassin was a movie that was much more enjoyable. In it Dylan O’Brien finds himself moving from young adult action to brutal ADULT action as he finds himself on a quest for vengeance. For the sake of honesty, I’m not going to try to pretend that American Assassin was a good movie, but man was it a blast watching him kill terrorists with Michael Keaton.
American Assassin is a movie that is all about the anger and rage that is deep down within all of us. Mitch Repp (O’Brien) suffers the loss of his fiance at the hands of a terrorist cell, but his suffering turns to a blinding fire that tempers his resolve to steel. It’s a mask that he wears well throughout the film, constantly simmering below the surface. There is a popular idea that anger blinds you and makes you lose your focus and control. For the first part of this film, that is very much the case for his character. However, this is not a movie about letting go of anger and learning to be cool and calculated or surgical and precise. Instead, it is one that teaches a lesson that not many people want to acknowledge, rage that is focused makes a man capable of doing absolutely anything. His inferno of anger is focused into a forge and it’s because of this that he becomes the kind of man who would grab a blade with his bare hand to win a fight.
I personally have a history with martial arts, specifically those of the mixed variety. That’s probably why I found this movie so enthralling to watch. American Assassin takes a page from the book of John Wick and incorporates a lot of mixed martial arts, especially Brazillian jiu-jitsu and wrestling. It’s still a Hollywood romanticized vision of what “fights” really are, but this movie isn’t afraid to throw the characters down in the mud and watch them struggle for the upper hand. That’s the key to this movie though, the characters have to struggle to win. There are no one-sided fist fights, only those are a little easier than others.
Keaton has had a hell of a come back over the past few years. First with Birdman and Spider-man: Homecoming and now this. He manages to slip into the role of the gruff mentor effortlessly and despite playing a major villain earlier this year, this is one of the first times I truly saw him as dangerous. His role is not just to prepare O’Brien physically to be a perfect assassin, but more to push him mentally to have the humility to look before he leaps. To train him not to let the anger blind him, but to let it focus him. He doesn’t get any Oscar-worthy moments or emotional speeches, but he does get his chance to feed Hollywood’s hard one for aging action stars several times throughout American Assassin. The end result is someone I wouldn’t want to cross.
What was most surprising to me is that Dylan O’Brien found himself going toe to toe with Tyler Kitsch. Now, Kitsch has had some mixed results in movies before, but his performance in Savages proved that he is most at home playing a total bad-ass. So, that isn’t the surprising part. What really surprised me is that O’Brien managed to keep up with him. In the past, he’s been best known for Teen Wolf and The Maze Runner, but he’s proven to me that he has a future well beyond that now. In fact, if I were Marvel or DC I would be looking very seriously at bringing him aboard. If not, I really hope to see him in more action-oriented roles like this in the future.
As I said before, American Assassin isn’t really a good movie, but that’s why Stars & Popcorn exists. The plot has some holes big enough to drive trucks through, the dialogue is run of the mill, and the Scott Adkins is given a lead role in it (amazing martial artist, but could use some acting lessons). Needless to say, there are some issues. Despite all that though, it is a lot of fun to watch. It’s got great action sequences, raw emotion, and an overall plot that isn’t half bad (plot holes aside). This movie is precisely the reason the two-tier rating system works.