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The Business of Assassination
by Bob Miller
(Discounted Paperback from Amazon)
. "Hitman"

It may be clear that the critical press has turned thumbs down on this action thriller fantasy, but I flat-out enjoyed it. There's a certain primitive simplicity to it, the editing is awkward in spots, and it derives from a game. But there's nothing wrong with the highly creative camera work by cinematographer Laurent Bares, the acting and, for the most part, the direction of an action piece that just shouldn't be taken for more than it tries to be.

There's no particular reach here. The premise of a select group of orphan/inductees being trained from before they could pick up a gun or when their hands were too small to reach the trigger guard tells you we're not into Shakespeare. Nor, "No Country For Old Men." So, psychological depth and human complexity aside, Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant, "Catch and Release") as the best grown-up hitman of them all is promise enough for us high action fans. Show us the impossible in a convincing and colorful way and we'll lap it up like it's a foamy latte with a sugar rush. Seriously.

A man who knows his guns and swords and chooses them for the task at hand as astutely as a surgeon calling for the proper scalpel, he uses a sniper rifle to put a bullet hole in the head of Russian president Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). A quick spurt of blood seen through the scope tells us of the killer's unerring aim. But shortly after he folds up his weapon and flees, Belicoff reappears, in public, as though nothing ever happened.

It's a mystery our assassination ace has never seen before, certain of his hit on his target. Also caught off guard by the reappearance is Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott, "Perfect Creature") who has been after the most perfect contract killer on record long enough to know he never misses. Mike's attempts to control the crime scenes, however, are repeatedly thwarted by the Russian secret police.

Agent 47 soon realizes that he's been set up as part of a contract on him(!) and he wastes no time trying to find out who is behind it. His single-minded pursuit leads to the identity he seeks but figuring into his deadly tracking is Nika (smashing Olga Kurylenko, "The Serpent," UK), a prostitute held in bondage to Belicoff's brother. At first, she's a source of intel that will lead him to his target; then an annoyance whom he nearly kills on more than one occasion, then a woman who tries to seduce him as an expression of her own growing interest. But, the poor lad rejects the provocations of this major sensual beauty. We don't know why, for sure, but it probably has something to do with the imposition of absolute discipline in his early training as well as what cannot be treated in a game context. He is, after all, a killing machine and machines don't make love.

Yet, feelings for his sensual companion causes him to make some compromises. He reluctantly abides her chattering; he pledges to keep her safe; he listens to her plea to clam up when he's about to off his Interpol nemesis; and he shows a connection to the girl that's unlike anything he's probably ever felt before, as can be seen in the ending.

The relationship's lack of consumation isn't fully satisfying, but that's part of what creates the fascination of this combination Houdini and Bruce Willis. The character's narrow field of perfection is probably borne out of the needs of the game on which it's based, but director Xavier Gens and screenwriter Skip Woods know what they're doing with this stylistic movie context.

Another game-derived piece of imagery that comes with unexplained logic is the agent's bald head sporting a scannable barcode tattooed in the back. While acceptable on the game monitor, in the more discerning scope of a movie it begs the question why would a hitman (hitmen, for that matter) emblazon their vocation on their person with iconic imagery? And, while the very high quality of the production goes so far beyond the game board, much of the action choreography, the lethal poses and the constant body attrition rate maintain the tie, for better or worse. I think it's a way to keep the gaming fans attached to what brought them here in the first place.

Actor Vin Diesel was executive producer, which makes one wonder if the script went to him first. However it evolved as a movie, I'm happy about the key role going to Olyphant who lends a more credible detachment to the role of hero working in an isolated world than Diesel might have.

But of all the good, working talent here, Kurylenko is the most seductive in all senses. A relatively new actress on the international scene, she's a vision of physical perfection top to bottom with a feisty energy that goes to the heart. As I predicted the pathway to certain stardom for brilliant Ellen Page, I hereby do the same for this promising performer. What she has to offer only awaits discovery by one major filmmaker or studio in Hollywood.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


The Soundtrack

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and agree with the review
Site rating: 6

I agree with the reviewer that the movie succeeds on the level at which it was apparently aimed. Certain scenes were very "Bourne-like", but they weren't bad movies from which to seek inspiration. I agree with the reviewer about Olga Kurylenko, and I hope she'll land some "serious" parts in the future.

                                                           ~~ Richard H.
Well written, perceptive
I've seen the movie and agree with the review

I love this movie. Critics who slam it just don't get its stylization and emotional subtlety. The relationship between 47 and Nika is sublimely tender.

                                                           ~~ Vicky
Well written
This review will influence me to read more by this reviewer
I've seen the movie and agree with the review

Good call on olga since she became a bond girl.

                                                           ~~ TyRone

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