Michael Cuesta’s 2017 action-heavy film, ‘American Assassin’ follows the story of a man whose traumatic experiences hone him into a skilled warrior out for blood. The film follows Mitch Rapp, a regular civilian who loses his fiance, Katrina, to a brutal terrorist attack. As a result, the man puts himself through rigorous training to get revenge and go after terrorist sects all on his own. However, his efforts ended up catching the attention of CIA’s Deputy Director Irene Kennedy of the Counterterrorism Department. Thus, recruited into a covert assassination program led by Ex-Navy S.E.A.L., Mitch finds himself with the means to channel his grief into a good, if violent, cause.
The film presents a narrative revolving around an enthralling, heroic adventure that unfolds with thrilling twists and turns. Therefore, CIA Agents Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy must have caught the viewers’ attention, compelling them to wonder if these government agents have any connection to reality.
American Assassin’s Fictional Characters And Their Literary Roots
Neither Mitch Rapp nor Irene Kennedy from ‘American Assassin’ are based on real CIA Agents. Much like the film, these characters find their origin in the popular spy thriller ‘Mitch Rapp’ book series by Author Vince Flynn. The first book, ‘Transfer of Power,’ published in 1999, meets Mitch as a time-hardened CIA Agent undertaking a grand adventure for his nation’s safety. Years— and many follow-up books later— Flynn delved into Mitch Rapp’s past in 2010’s ‘American Assasin’ to explore the deadly Agent’s backstory.
Thus, the eponymous novel remains the source material for the film, as well as Dylan O’Brien and Sanaa Lathan’s depiction of their characters. Even though the film only follows the early days of Mitch’s life as a CIA Agent, O’Brien had the added advantage of extensive lore about his character, which helped him study Mitch’s motives and psyche. Consequently, even though the actor got his introduction to the character through the script, he researched the existing literary universe in preparation for the role.
“I even went to fan pages to read comments on the character just to get an idea of who the guy was outside of the script,” O’Brien told Direct Conversations. “Once we got doing it, I really wanted to build him from the ground up and come from me with the thought that I understood this guy.” As such, it was crucial for O’Brien to find Mitch’s pulse as a character. The actor wanted to tap into the humane aspect of Mitch’s infamously cold-hearted character.
As for Lathan, who embodies Irene Kennedy’s role, the actress was drawn toward her character’s in-universe position as a CIA official and wanted to deliver a performance authentic to her story. Furthermore, filmmaker Cuesta and his team of screenwriters wanted to ensure technical and industry authenticity within these characters. For the same reason, they hired several ex-military and ex-CIA consultants to turn to whenever necessary.
Speaking about her character in an interview with Shock Ya, Lathan said, “I’m [also] interested in what goes on within a character— and what their history is. It was intriguing to imagine what it took for this woman to climb up through these ranks and contend with all of the hardships she probably endured, with all of the inner strength she had to have to lead this top-secret, Black OP group. These groups are morally ambiguous, as they are assassins. But they kill in order to save lives, and I was attracted to all of that.”
Thus, even though the film makes some key changes within the story— mostly for modernization’s sake— Mitch’s and Irene’s characters that we see on the screen remain faithful adaptations of their bookish counterparts. Consequently, since these literary characters have no basis in reality and were purely fabricated from author Flynn’s imagination, Mitch and Irene remain rooted in their fictional confines.
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