Talking Movies

December 4, 2019

From the Archives: Hitman

From the pre-Talking Movies archives.

Hitman does not achieve the sublime nonsensicality of its trailer. A pity, I hadn’t laughed as hard for quite some time as I did when the ‘Ave Maria’ played over sub-Matrix slow motion carnage, or as much as you can hint at in a 12’s rated trailer. Timothy Olyphant is 47, the titular assassin, who has precious little dialogue and is there purely to look cool with his shaved head. Which he succeeds in doing, obviously he took lessons from Bruce Willis during Die Hard 4. The sheer simple joy this film takes in firing off bullets in slow motion hasn’t been seen since The Matrix, which is explicitly referenced in a scene where 47 shoots up a room full of coked out, sub-machine gun wielding drug lords, and waits behind pillars that are blown to pieces to reload before emerging to splatter more drug-lord blood. Do we see anything new? Not in the slightest. This does not have the ambitions of The Matrix. It is merely a cheap, stylish computer game adaptation with a surprisingly logical plot.

French director Xavier Gens is channelling the spirit of his countryman Luc Besson, director of Leon and subsequently one-man studio for absurdist action fare. There’s an awful lot of tracking shots following armed characters down hallways, and Gens makes his film look Eastern European with lingering shots of un-American interiors. The obligatory eye candy, frequently topless Olga Kurylenko, has a thankless task as Nika. 47 is assigned to kill her but decides not to and instead asexually protects her while he hunts down the client who betrayed him and then put out a contract on his life. Wearing the same eyeliner and outfits as Asia Argento in xXx, Kurylenko confirms to that ridiculous Hollywood stereotype for Eastern European femmes fatale. This woman needs to get a new agent after also appearing mostly topless in a similar role in The Serpent before being quickly killed off.

Robert Knepper, best known as T-Bag on Prison Break and best loved as the opportunistic radio reporter in Carnivale, is wonderfully slimy as Yuri, the crooked FSB (new KGB) chief agent covering up the truth about the ‘fake’ assassination of a Russian premier and trying to hunt down 47 before he can expose the deception. LOST star Henry Ian Cusick (psychic Scot Desmond) has a tiny cameo but obviously enjoys himself while his countryman Dougray Scott is on fine form as the Interpol agent doggedly pursuing his ‘ghost’ despite official resistance and a brutal warning from 47 himself to let the case drop. There are scenes in this film which no one will be able to resist loving, such as a Mexican stand-off that turns into a Mexican sword-off to allow for some dignity in dying… Hitman succeeds admirably on its own preposterous terms. Huzzah for that.

3/5

September 22, 2019

From the Archives: The Serpent

Delving into the pre-Talking Movies archives I find a neglected French film featuring Olga Kurylenko just before Quantum of Solace.

Divorcing photographer Vincent (Attal) is surprised to run into an old classmate Plender (Cornillac) but it is no surprise. Plender is in fact about to destroy his life by a series of cleverly executed frame-ups.

This is a French film which certainly doesn’t conform to stereotype of endless existential debates between philosophising left-bank Parisians. It is in fact distinctly Hitchcockian, most particularly reminiscent of Strangers on a Train, but then this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as the source material is a novel by English crime writer Ted Lewis. Director Eric Barbier and his co-writer Tran Minh-Nam have fashioned a taut screenplay from that brutal work. Vincent (Yvan Attal) is a divorcing photographer locked in a bitter custody battle with his shrill selfish wife (Minna Haapkyla) who wants to move their young children to Germany. Life couldn’t get much worse…or so you’d think. But Mr Plender (Clovis Cornillac) is about to enter his life, a crooked PI who specialises in setting honey-traps with his accomplice Sofia (Olga Kurylenko) and blackmailing judges and lawyers with the resultant photos.

Imagine a young Ray Winstone and you have some idea of the sheer physical menace that Clovis Cornillac brings to his role as Plender. Plender was a classmate of Vincent’s and slowly we find out their shared dark past. It is one which drives Plender to frame Vincent for the attempted rape of Sofia before he improvises in order to blackmail Vincent with a threat of murder based around a missing body. It would be a pity to give away any more of Plender’s machinations but trust me they’re nasty and exceedingly brilliant as from the outside it looks like Vincent is a paranoid maniac offering delusional conspiracies rather than accept his own guilt. Attal is excellent at conveying the desperation of Vincent as the nightmarish net closes around him. Casino Royale actor Simon Abkarian stands out among the supporting cast as Vincent’s beleaguered friend and attorney Sam who sets out to prove the conspiracy his friend alleges has been directed against him is in fact real.

It’s hilarious to have to say it but the flaw of The Serpent is that it has too good a villain. Plender is as terrifying as Robert Walker’s Bruno in Strangers on a Train and then some. He’s a grade A psychopath of formidable intelligence and resources and the ability to switch on the charm to convince people that Vincent is out of his mind. The vise-like tightening of his plots during the first hour and a quarter is so chilling, implacable and masterful that the process by which our hero attempts to squirm out of them can’t help but feel tagged on. It is like Minority Report, where the reveal of the villain could have led to a shock end but the film instead trundles on for another 30 minutes in search of a happy one. A flawed but very gripping thriller.

3/5

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