the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Hitman is the oddest of action movies — a film that is all but devoid of action. Not satisfied with simply being another mindless video game adaptation, the film also forgets to be entertaining.

Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) works for one of those shadowy trans-government organizations referred to, imaginatively enough as, “The Organization.” Trained since childhood as a ruthless gun for hire, Agent 47 derives his unique moniker from the last two digits of the barcode tattooed on the nape of his neck. (Note to super-secret assassins working for ubiquitous clandestine organizations: if stealth and a low profile are important to you, I recommend against tattooing giant barcodes on the back of your bald heads. Just a thought. Take it or leave it). Agent 47 has no name. He is just a number. (Get it? OK, I’ll stop now).

While on an assignment to assassinate the Russian president (Ulrich Thomsen), Agent 47 finds himself embroiled in a political takeover. Suddenly the hunter becomes the hunted. As The Organization, the Russian military and Interpol (led by Dougray Scott) close in, Agent 47 desperately tries to connect the dots and find out who set him up and why. But the greatest threat to his survival just may be his own conscience — a decidedly alien emotion aroused in him by the beautiful but damaged prostitute, Nika (Olga Kurylenko).

Hitman was embroiled in problems throughout its lighting-fast production schedule, the most serious of which was the firing (and subsequent re-hiring) of its French director, Xavier Gens’ for making the film too violent and bloody. At one time, the studio considered paring the violence in the film down in order to ensure a PG-13 rating, but eventually relented, kept the R-rating, and simply made the violence more palatable.

That actually explains a lot.

Usually films like this are fueled by pure kinetic energy. They move so fast and make so much noise that you don’t realize, until the credits begin to roll, that there was no story. Hitman doesn’t even grant you that. The action is as sparse as the script, which feels like a CliffsNotes version of a longer screenplay distilled down to the bare minimum of a verb here and a noun there. The result is a plot so thin as to border on translucence.

Say what you will about these paint-by-number action films, they often employ a dazzling sort of physical grace and violent elegance. But Hitman cinematographer Laurent Barès goes for grainy and overexposed and calls it stylish; composer Geoff Zanelli cut and pastes the soundtrack from the Bourne films and calls it his own; and Olyphant, who looks good from the neck up, moves with an peculiar, unimposing physicality.

A few months from now, Hitman will be released on DVD with the theatrical cut and perhaps even a director’s cut. Save yourself the trouble and the money and watch the only decent cut out there — the trailer.


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