6 July 2009

Retro Review: Hitman (2007)


2007, 93mins, R
Director: Xavier Gens
Writer: Skip Woods
Cast includes: Timothy Olyphant, Olga Kurylenko, Dougray Scott, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Michael Offei
Release Date: 21st November 2007

“Hitman” is a credible contender for most unbalanced motion picture of all time, happily flitting from scenes of video game style ear splitting mayhem to semi-perverse torture and tepid crime busting. It’s hard to get a feel for the film at all during its runtime and even less an understanding of the people making it, it’s as schizophrenic a motion picture as the last few years have offered. Things aren’t helped by the disengaged story and dire performances all loosely interlinked via a set of patchy action sequences. The source which is a famed videogame has been made intensely popular due to innovative characterization of the lead role and mounds of thuggish brutality. Only the latter half of that multi million dollar cocktail makes it through to Xavier Gens unsuccessful adaptation.

Agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant) is a genetically engineered contract killer, willing to kill all and anybody if the price is right. He’s famed in his field and is regarded by many in the seedy places of the world as the best in the business, but even the finest killer will eventually start to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. The man tasked with finding out the identity of the legendary 47 is Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) but every time he’s about to close in, his skilled target manages a bravado escape. However Agent 47 has bigger problems, he’s been hired as a scapegoat in a high profile Russian assassination, tarnishing his name and making him the number 1 target for crime bureaus across the world. Capturing a supposed witness to his deed (Olga Kurylenko) 47 bombs about Europe in a bid to clear his name and wreck vengeance on those who tricked him.

Even fans of the interactive experience on which “Hitman” is based are unlikely to be satisfied with this offering, it’s to brooding and turgid to be fun and to tonally unbalanced to create any sort of memorable viewing experience. Had the creative team behind “Hitman” been willing to take the project down one clear cut path then the final product might have at least been passable but alas its shifts in style are simply to jarring for a recovery to become possible.

That qualm isn’t helped by the fact the general level of filmmaking on show is poor; everything from the direction to the acting is viable for a critical bashing in “Hitman”. Olyphant coasts in the lead, handing in an artificially restrained performance without providing any depth or meaning. In the games Agent 47 was never a creature of emotion but Olyphant seems to have confused dark and twisted emptiness with lazy and wooden nothingness. Kurylenko who has found semi-stardom in the 18 months since this movies theatrical release is a little more impressive but still lacks the vigour and spark that mark out the best femme fatales. Dougray Scott is at his natural level as an underwritten and utterly boring law enforcer whilst the villains are simply too many and to one dimensional to analyse.

Xavier Gens makes his Hollywood debut with “Hitman” and it’s not a promising one. The film is riddled with inconsistencies, has no real style or rhythm and can’t decide if it wants to be balls out action flick or a more serious and realistically gritty thriller. The ever morphing nature of the picture results in several ugly and distasteful contrasts, one moment Olyphant is theatrically jumping 50 feet into a canal whilst the next Kurylenko is being whipped and tortured in a rather cringe inducing and fetishist sequence. It’s hard to stomach and renders some of the already minor dosages of fun redundant. Maybe this baffling inconsistency could be down to studio interference (Fox are famed for it) but that still doesn’t excuse the unfortunate bounds between lecherous and ridiculous.

The action is mostly standard fare and rarely equates to more than so-so thrills. A hotel based shoot out is nicely staged and the finish is bombastic if not wholly hollow but overall there is nothing on show here action fans haven’t encountered 100 times before. Gens tries to capture the hard boiled and tense nature of the videogames various killing sprees and gun blasting moments but 90% of the time he fails, they look like they should but poor direction and shot selection often means they don’t excite as anticipated. The plot and story are as thin on the ground as most game based movies but at 93 minutes at least “Hitman” doesn't cling around forever. The editing is all rapid cuts and high octane jumps which effectively piles “Hitman” into the same stylistic group as most MTV style actioners whilst the cinematography is unusually drab for this sort of event. Usually the one thing you can count on from a videogame adaptation is pretty and glossy visuals but for the most part “Hitman” is an unusually grotesque and rough looking feature.

The movie is a weak and thoroughly forgettable experience, the sort of picture one see’s and forgets exists about an hour later. It’s not hard to pick faults in this barren and mirthless action experience and the team who constructed this mess should never work together again. They clearly all wanted to do something different with the property but for the audience the result is an unexciting and emotionally cold vehicle, ruined in a mash up of half heated ideas and contradicting concepts. Of course it goes without saying that the general level of workmanship on the movie is shoddy but the fatal fault with “Hitman” is an inability to stick with a mood or tone and develop accordingly.

A review by Daniel Kelly, 2009


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