This action thriller subverts cliché in a big way
The threat of terror has always been a profitable plotline in Hollywood.
Whether extraterrestrial or just disturbingly human, the movie industry has long capitalised on our fear of a large-scale attack, and the knowledge of our own relative vulnerability.
In the 1970s, terrorism on American soil was far from the minds of its citizens – rather, it took to the skies as the golden age of commercial flight dawned and plane hijacking became a new fear.
In the 80s and 90s, the charged politics of the Cold War brought a new villain to our screens with the threat of Communism. With clipped tones and calculating plans, it reached its peak, perhaps, with the infamous Hans Gruber in Die Hard.
Yet on 11th September 2001, something shifted again for Hollywood. The date the Twin Towers fell was one that shook the whole world to its core, and those aftershocks are still being felt today.
And with movies often a mirror for society, one place where the shocks were magnified was on the silver screen.
From Body of Lies (2008) to Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and Lone Survivor (2013), the post-9/11 film industry turned its gaze to the Arab world and found a new villain for a new millennium.
But while it may have become a trope of our generation, there are those who are urging a more balanced perspective.
One of them is former president Barack Obama. In 2016, at a mosque in Baltimore, Maryland, he urged the US media to shift the bias, saying “our television shows should have some Muslim characters that are unrelated to national security”.
Director Michael Cuesta is another fighting for fair representation.
A former executive producer for television spy thriller Homeland, he certainly knows a thing or two about putting terrorism on screen – and it’s something he confronts in new movie American Assassin – due for release in the UAE on 14th September – when the terrorist’s identity hits uncomfortably close to home.
Based on a series of novels by Vince Flynn, the movie follows a distraught Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien), who’s still reeling from losing his girlfriend in a terrorist attack.
After being recruited for the black ops division of the CIA, he is bent on getting his revenge, and in doing so, uncovers a terrorism plot led by the mysterious Ghost, who is trying to incite war in the Middle East.
So far, so familiar. But while on face value this seems like any other recent politically charged thriller, Cuesta exposes an uncomfortable reality – that terrorists could be anyone.
“The idea behind Ghost is that he was once a highly talented and confident CIA recruit, but now he feels betrayed by America, which makes him incredibly dangerous,” explains Nick Wechsler, the film’s producer.
This sense of betrayal and Cuesta’s refusal to subscribe to a tired terrorism stereotype is
one of the reasons award-winning actor Michael Keaton signed on to play Stan Hurley,
the grizzled CIA mentor.
“I didn’t want to do something that would be another cliché spy movie with the usual kinds of bad guys and Michael [Cuesta] did some smart things to avoid stereotypes and not over-simplify really complicated things,” he comments. “The film reflects just how complicated the world is right now.”
Also starring: Sanaa Lathan, Chris Webster,
David Suchet and Taylor Kitsch
Running time: 105 min
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WORDS Camille Hogg