Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

09/20/2017

 

American Assassin
By Joseph McAleer

NEW YORK (CNS) — The award for the most obvious film title of the year goes to “American Assassin” (CBS Films), an action thriller about — you guessed it — a professional killer from the United States, specifically Rhode Island.

This adaptation of the 2010 novel by Vince Flynn opens with a bang (multiple bangs, actually) and proceeds at a breakneck pace, leaving in its wake a veritable tsunami of bullets, blood and bodies.

It’s a gory revenge fantasy reminiscent of the “Death Wish” films, requiring a strong stomach and extreme patience. But the movie does finally come to its senses, and good triumphs over evil.

The story opens on a happy note before spiralling downhill. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) has just proposed to his girlfriend, Katrina (Charlotte Vega), on a crowded beach in Ibiza. As he strolls off to get celebratory cocktails, gunmen burst onto the sand and open fire, killing just about everyone in sight, including Katrina.

Flash forward two years, and Mitch has transformed himself into a lean, mean, fighting machine, a baby-faced version of Jason Bourne. He is driven by one desire: to avenge Katrina’s death by killing the terrorists responsible. This means learning Arabic, studying the Qur’an and joining shadowy chat rooms on the Internet.

Unbeknown to Mitch, the CIA is watching his every move, and deputy director Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) is impressed.

“I like your agenda,” she says. “I know exactly what to do with you.”

And so Mitch is recruited for a new black-ops program to infiltrate Iranian terrorists seeking to unleash nuclear war in the Middle East.

First he must be trained, and that responsibility falls to Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a grizzled Cold War veteran. To his credit, Stan tries to temper Mitch’s rage, and the hothead’s belief that “we kill people who need to be killed.”

“We need a higher cause,” Stan counters, discouraging Mitch’s vigilantism. “As soon as it starts feeling good, that’s when you stop being a professional.”

As the Iranian plot unfolds, Batman and Robin — make that Stan and Mitch — join forces with Annika (Shiva Negar), a comely Turkish agent who has her own scores to settle.

Director Michael Cuesta, channeling a Robert Ludlum thriller, keeps the audience guessing and the body count rising as the trio zips across Europe in search of a mysterious ringleader named Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who just happens to be an old buddy of Stan’s.

The film contains a vigilante theme, constant bloody violence, including torture and gunplay, brief upper female nudity, several uses of profanity and pervasive rough as well as much crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
- — -
McAleer is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

 

Mother!
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Even as its end credits roll, there’s a great deal that remains puzzling about the chaotic, exhausting, genre-blending allegory “Mother!” (Paramount).

What’s all too apparent, however, is that the film’s treatment of religion — one of the major themes it seeks to address — is relentlessly negative and briefly sacrilegious.

One of the minor mysteries that receives no solution is why the movie’s title is officially left uncapitalized, in the e.e. cummings, k.d. lang manner, and what its exclamation point may signify. That’s symptomatic of writer-director Darren Aronofsky’s approach throughout, as he keeps viewers guessing not only about what’s going on, but about where it’s all happening as well.

This much, at least, the audience does know: When first encountered, the two unnamed main characters — a poet (Javier Bardem) and his wife (Jennifer Lawrence) — are living a solitary life in an isolated house in the countryside. Surrounded by a forest, their home is so remote, in fact, that it initially seems wholly removed from any world beyond it.

As she works to rehabilitate the dwelling after a disastrous fire, and he struggles with writer’s block, a series of intruders begin to arrive, led by a diffident doctor (Ed Harris) and his aggressive spouse (Michelle Pfeiffer). Ironically, the physician is a compulsive smoker with a constant hack that doesn’t bode well for his future (we later learn that he is, indeed, dying).

While their own presence still remains unaccounted for, the visiting couple is tracked down by their quarreling sons (real-life brothers Domhnall and Brian Gleeson) who barge in and proceed to enact a tragedy directly paralleling the biblical story of Cain and Abel. This is perhaps the first hint that Bardem’s persona also has a scriptural counterpart — none other than God the Father.

As the trickle of strangers grows into a flood — overcoming his drought of inspiration, the writer has penned a work that draws instant and clamorous acclaim — their unwilling hostess is understandably distressed by their bizarre behaviour, not least the casual way they take her hospitality for granted. Yet her husband extends a mysteriously motivated, endlessly patient welcome to one and all.

Amid the confusion, Aronofsky — who incorporates Gothic and horror elements into the story — touches on a broad range of topics including creativity, compassion and marital relationships. As he continues to delve into his principal subject, faith, however, “Mother!” becomes repugnant.

The author’s celebrated work is clearly meant as a stand-in for the Bible. But those on the receiving end of his revelation misunderstand and misuse it.

After a pregnancy troubled by the disorder surrounding her, moreover, Lawrence’s title character gives birth to a son whose fate recalls the death of Jesus. In depicting his version of the Passion and the eucharist, though, Aronofsky grotesquely caricatures both.

Viewers who shun “Mother!” on that basis will also be sparing themselves a two-hour ordeal and quite a bit of head-scratching.

The film contains blasphemous images, a negative portrayal of religion, much strong and sometimes gory violence, semi-graphic marital lovemaking, a glimpse of full nudity and occasional profanity and rough language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
- — -
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

Copyright (c) 2017 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops