Film, In Review: American Ultra

We exist sometimes to fulfill a greater purpose.

Jesse Eisenburg (Mike) in "American Ultra".

Jesse Eisenburg (Mike) in “American Ultra”.

Where you are now may not be where you’ll be in five minutes, ten weeks, or even twenty years and whether or not you’ll grasp an understanding of why you were chosen will all be up to you. Until then, you wait…for the one thing that will set your journey into motion. For some, it might be a meeting of ideas, for others a mysterious coincidence, but for Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenburg) – it’s a chance encounter with FBI agent Victoria Lasseter (Connie Britton) standing two feet away, staring through covert lenses.


Jesse Eisenburg (Mike) and Kristen Stewart (Phoebe) in “American Ultra”

Mike doesn’t plan. It’s not that he can’t. It’s just that his execution always needs a bit of work. Phoebe (Kristen Stewart) loves Mike. Together, their swaddled awkwardness makes them inseparable. When they are not working, or are in Mike’s case, they spend their days smoking and making omelettes, basking in their marijuana distilled abode until sunrise. But today, today is different. Mike has decided that he is going to propose to Phoebe and take her on a wonderful destination trip to Hawaii – except for one problem. He has a phobia of flying. Unable to make it past the checkpoint, they are forced to go home. Phoebe, disappointed, wallows alongside a blubbering apologetic Mike who is just as frustrated at his own cowardice; but in a matter of hours, that is all about to change. Mike will venture on an unapologetic journey to discover himself in ways he never knew before – while trying not to get killed along the way.


John Leguizamo (Rose) and Jesse Eisenburg (Mike) in “American Ultra”

Nima Nourizadeh directs “American Ultra” accompanied by screenwriter Max Landis. Jesse Eisenburg and Kristen Stewart band together to play cat and mouse with the likes of Topher Grace, Connie Britton, John Leguizamo, Walter Goggins, and Bill Pullman. Eisenburg and Stewart master the art of unconventional espionage in this comedy of action with their supporting cast hot on their every move.

The cinematography is simple at its core with half of the film set in darkness and decayed interiors but it is nonetheless brilliantly edited cutting between shots with such fluidity that it’s hard to take your eyes off the screen; specifically in the mano-a-mano fight scenes where Mike goes completely AWOL. Moreover, the synchronicity is crisp – each shot governed by an eloquent set up and an even greater conclusion.

“American Ultra” is, if not anything else, a satirical fog light shone brightly on the federal Government to expose its maniacally twisted Frankenstein complex.

After all, Mike Howell was the perfect specimen.  He lacked ambition which meant that he had the potential to be manipulated into becoming something greater. Lest we forget that at the root of this experiment, Mike Howell was a human being who unfortunately became a robotic mercenary. Of course, when a monster creates another monster there are bound to be a few hiccups. Mike’s sudden activation allowed him to retaliate against those trying to hurt him even if it meant killing mercilessly, regardless of if he felt remorse immediately afterwards.

Sadly, “American Ultra” mirrors our present reality. Too often a body of human beings conclude that interfering with one of their own is justified when fending for the sake of the whole. Yet Mike Howell is just one example that reminds us that defiance is not entirely unattainable.


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