American Assassin (Cuesta; 2017)

1987 called, it wants its movie back.  I suppose I could have also said that about last week’s It, but in the case of American Assassin its even more true.  Whereas It at least had modern sensibilities where its cinematography, special effects, and treatment of the subject matter are concerned American Assassin feels in nearly every way like a 30 year-old movie in which Michael Keaton has somehow aged and they forgot to write in the corny one liners.  This is a movie in which every American but one is a no questions asked good guy and every one who isn’t an American except one is a no questions asked bad guy.  America – yay!  Not American – Boo.

The premise behind American Assassin is that a guy who hates terrorists (Mitch played by Dylan O’Brien) is recruited by the CIA to kill said terrorists, but one guy who used to have the same job the guy who hates terrorists (“Ghost” played by Taylor Kitsch) now has has gone bad for reasons and is helping the Iranians get a nuclear weapon, because all Iranians really want to do is blow stuff up despite treaties they entered into.  The strokes painted here are so broad as to be downright insulting to anyone with enough reason to see the world in anything other than absolutes.  Add in the old trainer who is so much better than anyone else that you wonder why they don’t just send him in to do the job in the first place (Stan Hurley played by Michael Keaton) and an undercover operative whose main skill is being pretty (Annika played by Shiva Negar) and you have nearly every offensive stereotype in the book pretty well covered.  At least the Deputy Director of the CIA is a black woman, I guess (Irene Kennedy played by Sanaa Lathan), but in this movie its the equivalent of someone saying “I have a black friend”.

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Okay, so cliches are rampant and offensive, but how is the plot?  There was not a single beat or motivation in this entire film that was not both telegraphed and, again, cliche.  Even if you’ve never seen a movie before I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t see every single bit coming in this movie long before it actually happens.  Add to that the fact that the writers didn’t even attempt to come up with plausible bits of action for our characters – for instance, the bad guy who is the world’s greatest bad ass secret agent gets caught showing his face on security camera easily and immediately for no good reason (it’s not part of some ploy) but apparently that’s okay because the Deputy Director of the CIA doesn’t even think to check security footage – and you have writing that is both inept and broadcast.

The best thing that can be said about American Assassin is that at least the acting and camerawork aren’t as bad as the script.  The actors aren’t given anything to truly work with, and they never manage to rise above the material – even Keaton who seems to be in “doing it for a paycheck” mode – but, they at least show that they may have some promise if they are ever given a decent script and director.    As for the cinematography, the opening is probably the worst bit as its meant to be the main character filming on his phone, but even I who have made the claim that I have never taken a decent photograph could do a better job.  After that, though, the camerawork becomes serviceable, if never in any way, shape, nor form artistic.

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You would think a film in this style would at least be over the top with American nationalism, but we don’t even get that.  There’s no American flags to be seen, no cries for God and country (though, there is one call to prayer), no speeches about American superiority, nor worship of the military.  It’s a film based entirely on terrorists being bad, foreigners being terrorists or at least in league with them, and these facts give Americans an excuse to beat them up and kill them.  That’s the gist.

Final verdict:  The only reason I don’t call American Assassin the worst movie of the year is because the plot was at least mostly coherent, if still nonsensical in its own way.  The script is horrible, the action basic and dull, the characters offensive stereotypes, and even the special effects look like they come straight out of the ’80s.  The only reason to see American Assassin is as a bet with someone you dislike to see who can hold out the longest, either disgust or sleepiness will almost certainly overtake anyone before the movie’s end.

Allied (Zemeckis; 2016)

Allied is a film that seems so hard to be trying for Oscar nominations.  From its well regarded stars to its subject matter to the period in which its set to its high profile director it’s a film that is just begging to be important.  What we get, unfortunately, is a somewhat well made slog.

Brad Pitt plays Max Vatan, an officer in the Canadian Air Force working for the British government during World War II and Marion Cotillard is Marianne Bausejour a spy in the French Resistance.  These two meet up during an operation in Casablanca, fall in love, and go to London together to get married.  Shortly afterward the RAF discovers that Bausejour may not be who she claims.

Allied is a movie that defies criticism, not really because it is so good or so bad, but because there is so little here.  It’s a fairly dull film with poor chemistry between its actors, a plot so thin and with so little in the way of subplots to speak of that it seems like at least two thirds of what we see is filler to give the movie an ample running time, and dialogue that never stands out in any way.  Allied does a decent job of keeping us guessing about its main premise, dropping what seems like obvious clues as to what is really going on with Cotillard’s character then giving us reason to doubt what we’ve seen over and over again, but that really is all the script and the performances have going for them.

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I even look bored during the action scenes.

The production values of the film are better than the story, but even they can be a little inconsistent.  The sets and locations are downright spectacular, looking so real and so much like a war torn era London that you have to wonder how they were able to get the local residents allow the film crew to totally transform their neighborhood for the film’s purposes.  The costumes and interiors had more character than the actors did, and you can truly allow yourself to get lost in the period of the movie, if not so much in the story.

The camera work and special effects, however, are a little more inconsistent.  They are excellent for most of the time, but occasionally give way to an awkward shot or an obvious green screen effect or the like blemishing an otherwise great effort, and in an odd way these stand out mistakes can be more annoying than work in poorly made films as the mistakes really stand out and make for added distraction.

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Don’t look over there, look over here.

Allied seems like a film that was made in a hurry.  Everyone involved is quite skilled, and it really does show much of the time, but it’s also obvious that so much of that skill was put into half-assed, “I just want to get this over with” effort.  There’s a lot of good here, a lot of bad, but mostly it’s a lot of filler and lack of passion.  It’s lackluster artisans at work.

Rating:  4.4 out of 10