American Assassin

Michael Keaton has fun in an unpredictable and well-crafted political thriller from Michael Cuesta

How do you create an interesting political thriller in what's become an exhausted sub-genre? Throw money at it? Hone the plot? Pay attention to detail? Insert nifty action sequences? Have a proper cast? Luckily American Assassin, the first in a planned Mitch Rapp franchise, does all of the above.

Based on the novel by the late Vince Flynn, this nimble actioner introduces all-American hero Rapp, an orphan whose fiancée's murder by terrorists kicks off his career as an unstoppable killer, despite being the kind of guy who gets thrown out of gun ranges and mixed martial arts gyms.

With his trademark move of grabbing knife blades, fans should be delighted that their hardcore hero is played by the boyish Dylan O'Brien. Best known for his role in the Maze Runner films, O'Brien's credible depiction of youthful damage warped into obsession gives his high-mileage mentor Stan Hurley (a fun outing for Michael Keaton) many emotional handholds with which to get more personal. Their mission: stop a nuclear bomb being assembled and armed – and figure out who is actually making the thing.

Directed by Michael Cuesta (Kill the Messenger), American Assassin's reported $40m budget seems more like $150m, with terrific production design and impactful set-pieces. The wardrobe department do their job well too: a glimpse of Hurley's white sock and solid shoe speak volumes about his character. When Rapp can't fit past a tight space, his fellow agent Annika (Shiva Negar, forced to be an operative in super high heels) slips through the bars. That's the kind of simple logic that makes this an above-average effort. Filmed in Rome, London, Malta and Thailand, it always looks great and the effects largely hold up – with extra points for anti-gravity scenes on a yacht. Excellent turns by Sanaa Lathan, David Suchet and Taylor Kitsch add to the quality.

What some will find a surprisingly unpredictable, action-packed bit of entertainment, others may find a politically dubious gun-and-bomb party, but this is one of the freshest political thrillers in years.

General release from Thu 14 Sep.

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