4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD copy; 2017; R for strong violence throughout, some torture, profanity and brief nudity; streaming via Amazon Video, FandangoNOW, Google Play, iTunes, YouTube
Best extra: "Target Acquired: Creating an American Assassin"
PRODUCER Lorenzo di Bonaventura ("Transformers," "Four Brothers" "Shooter") has tried to make a movie based on CIA counterterrorism agent Mitch Rapp for nearly a decade.
The late Vince Flynn, a story consultant for "24," wrote 13 bestselling political thrillers about Rapp, which was continued by author Kyle Mills. Shocked that the movie rights were still available, Bonaventura initially planned to film "Consent to Kill" in which Rapp is a seasoned, forty-something agent.
But ten books into the series Fynn wrote a prequel, "American Assassin," introducing a younger Rapp, right out of college. Even though a director, actor and shooting date had been set for "Consent to Kill," Bonaventura ditched the project to pursue "American Assassin."
"We thought that it would be a great way to tell the origin of the story and we would grow someone into the roll," Bonaventura says in the featurette "Target Acquired: Creating an American Assassin." Co-producer Nick Wechsler of "The Road" and "Magic Mike" was also drawn to Fynn's novels. There were no super villains, he says, "just the ones in the world as we know it."
In 2013 the project hit another setback when Fynn died of prostate cancer. He was only 47. His widow, Lysa Fynn, kept the series going in print and film, making sure the characters "stayed true to how Vince wrote them in his books."
Bonaventura and Wechsler signed a new director, Michael Cuesta, veteran television executive producer/director for "Dexter" and "Homeland." Cuesta only had one movie under his belt, "Kill the Messenger" (2014), the true story of journalist Gary Webb played by Jeremy Renner, who uncovers the CIA's involvement in cocaine flooding into the U.S.
Dylan O'Brien of MTV's "Teen Wolf" was signed to play the 23-year old Rapp, with production starting in Europe after he finished starring in the third and final installment of "Maze Runner: The Death Cure."
Then the unthinkable happened. O'Brien was seriously injured on a stunt the third day of the "Maze Runner" shoot. With a concussion and a facial fracture, O'Brien was out of action for nearly a year while surgeons reconstructed his face. Everyone, including O'Brien, wondered what he would look like afterward. Surprisingly, the 26 year-old actor looked just fine, and bulked up during six weeks of pre-production training.
The opening of "American Assassin" from screenwriter Stephen Schiff diverts from the book placing Rapp on a sandy beach off the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. The international production filmed the sequence in Thailand over six late afternoon sunsets. The rest of the production was filmed in London and Rome.
After proposing to Katrina Harper (Charlotte Vega), Rapp goes for drinks to celebrate. Before he can return, a boatload of terrorists land on the beach. Rapp is hit in the leg and shoulder, but Katrina is killed.
Eighteen months later, Rapp is alone and angry. He's dropped out of Brown University, grown a beard and is communicating with a terrorist cell to track down the killers. "We recognize that kid, we know that kid, that kid is one of our children, and he's going to turn into someone we don't know," Schiff says in the featurette "Finding Mitch Rapp."
Like any good spy thriller, there are plenty of twists, turns and violent fights. The inspiration seems to come from Jason Bourne and Jack Reacher, and most of the action is formulaic. While entertaining, we're never in any doubt as to how it will play out. Michael Keaton ("Birdman," "Spotlight") plays former Navy SEAL Hurley, who leads the black ops program Orion and helps train Rapp. The mission is to find enriched plutonium stolen from a decommissioned Russian nuclear facility before it falls into terrorist hands.
Sanaa Lathan plays CIA Deputy Director Irene Kennedy. She's kept her eye on Rapp during his training and believes in the young hothead. Taylor Kitsch ("Lone Survivor") plays Ghost, one of Hurley's agents who's gone rogue.
Both the 4K and Blu-ray discs feature 60-minutes of extras including a Q&A with O'Brien, Kitsch and dozens of F-bombs at an Alamo Drafthouse in Austin.
Cuesta and his crew use 3.4K ARRIRAW digital cameras (2.40:1 apsect ratio); the film has been mastered in 2K. There's no clear information to confirm the mastering level, but the sharpness difference in resolution between the 4K and Blu-ray is very similar – with only a slight uptick of clarity – most evident in cityscape wide-shots in Rome and London. If there had been a true 4K master the gap would've have been much greater.
HDR toning is much darker on the 4K, making clouds in the beach scene more animated. Black levels are more dramatic during Rapp's confrontation with a terrorist inside an abandoned building in Libya.
The overall color palette between 4K and Blu-ray are comparable.
The 4K and Blu-ray each get the active and expansive Dolby Atmos soundtrack pushing gun blasts and explosions to all speakers, while expanding vertically. You won't be disappointed.
With hopes to begin a new action franchise, "American Assassin" earned a so-so worldwide gross of $65 million. It remains to be seen if O'Brien and company will be back for another adventure with Mitch Rapp.
— Bill Kelley III, High-def Watch producer