​​American Assassin – a review/rant

I didn’t walk out, so there is that. I really wanted to. Sixty minutes in and the cliches and lazy plot twist just kept coming. It is films like this – films that get major distribution and promotion – then turn out to be so poorly executed, that anger me

. American Assassin, a made for television film if ever there was one, has been foisted on an unsuspecting public as a high-concept action thriller. It really is not.

The film begins in Ibiza where a loved-up Mitch Rapp (an underfed Dylan O’Brien) proposes to his girlfriend, Katrina – though I thought her name was Serena – (Charlotte Vega). She accepts and he goes off to get a couple of cocktails to celebrate.

As he waits at the bar all hell breaks loose as terrorist open fire, spraying automatic gunfire at fleeing holidaymakers. Rapp takes a shot in the hip and shoulder as he tries to find his recently acquired fiancée. As Katrina looks for him, she gets shot and then one of the terrorists decides to shoot her again in front of Rapp, because, why not?

Fast forward eighteen months and a hirsute Rapp is making contact with the Taliban, hoping to infiltrate the cell that killed his fiancée. Unbeknownst to him, he is being observed by the CIA who move in when his plan proves successful, getting them close to a target they had previously been unable to even locate.

Impressed by his tenacity and apparent high level of combat and firearms competency – “he scores off the charts” says deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Latham). Bullshit. – he is recruited to join a covert, hardcore, elite division run by grizzled veteran hard arse, Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton). And the cliches keep on coming.

The angry young buck that is Rapp, proves to be a bit of a maverick, failing to follow orders and going off mission. Meanwhile – cliche pile-ups aplenty – Hurley recognizes one of his old charges, referred to enigmatically (not really) as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch).

Turns out Ghost was a former operative, whom they thought dead, who was the previous young charge who ‘scored off of the charts’!

Having revealed the laziest twist in cinema, the film proceeds with some convoluted crap about uranium and building a nuke and how it must not get into Iranian hands, but wait, the Ghost is double-crossing everybody! He wants to blow up ‘Mericans!
The fact that this same story has been done so much better – 2012’s Skyfall most recently – on every level is what is irritating.

One does not expect a masterpiece – not with the imaginative title of American Assassin – but lazy, tired, two-dimensional characters, a less than two-hour runtime that feels like four and lacklustre directing do not point to a film that warrants the kind of promotion that this tripe had.

It always pains me when I see actors having to commit and try and convince an audience that a story is worth sticking with, whilst working with such poor material. Four – FOUR! – screenwriters worked on this! It is doubtful that they worked together, as the script reeks of studio interference, hence the many writing credits. There is only one director though, Michael Cuesta.

Cuesta is mostly credited with television work. The best I can say about the directing in this film is everyone is in focus. Fights scenes – in an action thriller remember – are pedestrian.

For some reason, they decided to set a chase scene in one of the world’s busiest cities, when it comes to traffic, Rome and the chase is on par with the awful ‘let people see the cars’ sequence/chase in Spectre in its blandness.

Locations, no doubt trying to give the film an international flavour, seemed picked at random, as though the director thought they might be nice places to visit. Another thing; the title of the film gives the impression of some lone wolf, a one-man army, tasked with taking out bad people; a male Nikita if you will.

In the film he is anything but that, stealing cars and having shootouts whilst compromising his team and mission, no finesse or evidence of his ‘off the charts’ ability in anything except reckless endangerment.

If you have one hundred plus minutes to kill and find yourself watching the trailers as you wait for American Assassin to begin, do yourself a favour and leave after the trailers.

Hating On Reality

As an aspiring film and television writer, reality television is an abomination to me. Lazy television, accommodating talentless, fame hungry people and selling it as entertainment. Here in the United Kingdom the latest reality show – it might be in its second or third season, I’ve really no idea and refuse to research it. – is Love Island, a show where a collection of beautiful, single, young people are thrown together on an island and given various task to complete.
The show has garnered a lot of press for a lot of the antics, mostly of an overtly sexual nature, that have transpired. I do not consider myself a prude and an adult is entitled to do as they please, as long as their actions harm no other, but Love Island, a show that is deliberately salacious and is so abhorrent I cannot bring myself to watch even an episode, I have been watching snippets on YouTube and it is as awful as I feared.
Musclebound jocks and dolly birds with too much face paint show off and cavort on a specially created island. At the end of each episode, the watching public gets to vote off one of the participants. The group learn of this by one of them receiving a text and reading it out loud to the rest. The programme is just painful.
Suffering three minutes of this tripe is almost too much for me, with one of the least popular bawling their eyes out, because the other least popular character decided to leave. Utter shite. There are inane conversations and way too much makeup on just about everybody. Looking beautiful – depending on one’s perspective – seems to be the only requirement for getting into the shop window that this show is.
With the modern penchant for social media being seen as viable a career option, with popularity allowing celebrities to earn substantial amounts of money, there is a never ending supply of nubile, attractive women and hunky, gym-loving, vainglorious men prepared to embarrass and exhibit themselves for a voyeuristic and haughty public.
That reality television is so popular, especially in its present, obviously scripted, format is a mystery to me. There was a time when it was the contrast in the characters involved that was what made this type of show interesting and watchable. Now everyone in these shows looks the same. All of the participants fall into the eighteen to twenty-four demographic, all are slim and conventionally attractive or buffed up and pseudo-cool.
The public, however, laps up the show, happy to adopt it as a sort of guilty pleasure that makes them feel better about themselves, not being silly enough to allow themselves to be filmed for cheap entertainment. The feeling of superiority is reinforced by the type of people they tend to choose, who even for all their good looks and fine tans are obviously from working class backgrounds.
That this show is so popular says as much about the viewership as it does the participants, the class system and perceptions of the watchers that they are somehow better than those they are watching because, like spectators at an old Roman arena, they are being entertained. Of course, I see the irony in my rant, how by deriding Love Island, I too am viewing myself as above such fair. As I began, I have never been a fan of reality television. I want to be told stories. If I want to observe real life I can go sit on a bench in my local park. If I want to hear about other people’s mundane love life’s, I can get on a bus and hear any number of less than guarded conversations, people on mobile phones never aware of the fact they are out in public.
Unfortunately, reality television shows are not only initially cheap to make – the cost goes up once any of the participants gets really popular – but they also appeal to the ever important eighteen to twenty-four demographic, the mass consumers of media. As lazy and uninspiring as reality television is, it is not going away.

Me My Nemesis

Those who never suffer depression think of it as some sort of affliction of the lax of mind. A lament of people who cannot be bothered to just snap out of it. The recognised depressive is that of a dour individual, emanating a permanent lethargy, unable to see the reality of their life situation. How bad can it be really? It’s not like they’re being asked to go to war!
The truth is, depression, like that other most random of diseases, cancer, can strike anyone. For some, it may never happen, others may only experience it once or twice, when some particular incident – a bereavement perhaps – causes it to engulf the mind.
Depression has been likened to a large, black dog. Heavy, weighing one down. I suppose for a lot of people it is like that. For me it is not like that. There is the weight, the dull pressure inside head that just appears from nowhere. It is a split thing. I can see it, feel it, happening; negative whispers, little things becoming reasons to flip out, every past failure replaying, reminding me of poor decision making or the inability to make good choices. This is how it manifest. Suddenly, like a punch. Not a heavy punch, more a shock; an eye waterer.
This is when I should get my guard up, move away from the attack. Sometimes I do. Usually the second punch comes quickly, following up; a combination. I am reeling, trying to fight back, but the punches I throw in defence are easily dodged. My nemesis knows every secret I have. Every move I make or am going to make. Of course he does.
I am the rubbish fat, slow kid, left almost to the last when the teams are being picked, the sweaty teenager unable to talk to the girls; the guy who never sees the opportunities. The one who always disappoints. In fact being a disappointment is so common, it is expected. The punches keep coming. They are everywhere, coming from every angle. Never enough to make you lose consciousness, but constant and painful. The fight wages on for what seems a very long time. This is where the tiredness comes from; the relentless war, fighting against the barrage of blows.
Humans are pack animals. You get the odd loner, those whose prefer the company of cats or dogs perhaps, but generally people gravitate toward people. People are affected by one another. That’s why a mob can quickly become a riot and why the euphoria of live events can be felt in the largest of crowds. It is a collective feeling. It is also the reason people fear depression.
Just like laughter, misery can be contagious. Nobody would deliberately put themselves into that potential malaise. Misery may love company, but company does not love misery.
The darkness does not want to leave, it has a life; a purpose and it likes it. It is a demon child spawned by yourself. So you love it even if it feels like it’s destroying in you. You need to kill it. Even though it is part of you, born of you, desperate to exist, feeding off of you. Still, the first rule of any species is self preservation. You have to kill it. But what kind of a parent would kill their own child?
Perhaps you could cage it. Lock it away, never to be seen or heard from again. That would work. Are you strong enough to do that? Do you want to? Of course you say yes. Why would you not want to stop the internal war, the constant struggle of maintaining the facade.
Would you be the same person without it? That is the question. Without the darkness, the temperance, would you become the idiot you fear hides behind the mask of conformity? Would you be light of heart and open and sweet? The darkness brings balance, it keeps check. As ever, it comes down to the fear, the fear of the nemesis you can never escape; you.