October 26, 2007

An Unclean Hit

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Hitman is a film based on the videogame series of the same name, directed by Xavier Gens and written by Skip Woods. The game puts the player in control of an elite genetically engineered assassin simply called “Agent 47”. Agent 47 works for a covert organization called “The Agency” (called “The Organization” in the film) that assign him to assassinate high-profile targets with morally reprehensible characteristics such as drug traffickers, child-pornographers, slave traders, etc. The game offers a wealth of source material that in the right hands could be translated into an innovatively dark take on the criminal underworld. It is unfortunate to report that the Hitman film adaptations offers nothing original and at best is an average action movie that is worth watching only if you need to kill time or procrastinate during finals week via a DC++ download (if the law asks, I did not just say that).

In the film, Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) gets involved in a Russian political conspiracy while carrying out a hit on a high-profile Russian target, the Russian president Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). He soon finds himself pursued by Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) as well as assassins from his own organization and the Russian military. He forms an acquaintance with the battered mistress of the Russian President, Nika Boronina (Olga Kurlyenko) and works with her to reformulate a new strategy that will simultaneously allow him to escape the situation and reveal the nature of the conspiracy to him.

I do not want to reveal any more for fear of spoilers, but to be perfectly frank the film’s plot is very mediocre and nothing special. Many scenes do not add anything to the film but rather serve as fillers to get from one action scene to another. This is a shame given that the film had the potential to be much more than just a mindless action movie.

The film does have a few spots where it shines. The script tries to characterize Agent 47 for the audience and sometimes it succeeds. Agent 47 is played by Timothy Olyphant who up to now has been a character actor relegated to supporting roles, such as the manager for Elisha Cuthbert’s character in The Girl Next Door and most recently the villain in this summer’s Live Free or Die Hard. Olyphant is a good actor and does his best to play Agent 47 as a man that is good at carrying out assassinations but nothing else; however the script does not give him the necessary creative breathing room to realize his full potential in this capacity. Consequentially, much of Agent 47’s dialogue feels very awkward and not natural; there are some good components of Agent 47’s characterization such as his lack of desire and inability to form any sort of human relationship with Nika beyond the strictly utilitarian, but they are too few and even then given only a superficial exploration by the script.

The film offers a lack of substance and style. The action scenes do not have any unique stylistic touches to them by the director and overall are not executed in any sort of way that would force one to take notice. I’m typically forgiving of “mindless action movies” if the action scenes are done in a unique way, such as the awesome two minute casino tracking shot in the Thailand martial art import The Protector but in there were no stylistic touches that really stood out.

Hitman is a disappointment that at best feels like a below-average remake of the Bourne movies. It had the potential to carve out its unique cinematic niche among action films but it is unfortunate to report that it has not. If you are looking for a two-hour time killer then it may be just the thing you need but I doubt it will offer any other value. Video game adaptations do have something unique to offer to the film media, such as last years awesome Silent Hill by Christophe Gans which offered a unique take on surrealistic thrillers, but Hitman is not one of these movies.