Mark Reviews Movies

HITMAN (2007)

2  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Xavier Gens

Cast: Timothy Olyphant, Dougray Scott, Olga Kurylenko, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Henry Ian Cusick, Michael Offei

MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, language and some sexuality/nudity)

Running Time: 1:40

Release Date: 11/21/07

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Review by Mark Dujsik

I like video games as much as any American male in his mid-20s (In other words, probably too much for man in his 20s), yet I've never played any of the games in the Hitman series (There are four, I believe). If one of the signs of a good film adaptation of a book is that it makes one want to read said book, then the same must be true of a video game adaptation. In that respect, Hitman succeeds, because I want to play the games. On the other hand, I wanted to be playing them while I was watching the movie, and that has to be a problem.

The movie isn't bad; it's just all too familiar. We've seen this plot before: a lone man fighting against multiple groups out to get him while caught up in and uncovering a vast political conspiracy beyond his (and our) understanding. It's occasionally indecipherable, although, admittedly, my attention was also occasionally elsewhere (namely my Playstation). Still, Hitman does have an intriguing setup before the plot proper kicks in, a series of well-staged action sequences, and a worthwhile performance from its star.

"Ave Maria" plays as we see a man dressed in a monk's robe tattoo the back of a young man's shaved head with a barcode. Cut to London (as the movie emphasizes, "London, England"), where Interpol agent Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) returns home to find a dead man in his den. Also present is a mysterious stranger (Timothy Olyphant), whom Whittier has been hunting down for years. "How does a good man decide when to kill," the stranger asks, and then he tells Whittier his story. The man for whom Whittier is really looking runs an organization simply called The Organization, which takes the rejected, disposable children of the world and trains them to be professional killers.

The stranger is one them, and his story starts in St. Petersburg, where he's been assigned to kill Russian President Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). Even though he shoots the president with a sniper rifle from over a mile away, the media reports the president has survived. His contact in The Organization tells the hitman that there's a witness, Nika (Olga Kurylenko), and he's to take care of her. Turns out, though, it's all a setup, and everyone is out to get the hitman.

Who's everyone? Well, Whittier wants to arrest him, the Russian secret police want to kill him, and The Organization sends out other black-suited, power-tie-wearing, bald assassins to exterminate him. The hitman, naturally, takes Nika along, because she knows more than he does. It's a foregone point that a movie like this has misogynistic elements, and sure enough as the only female character of note, Nika serves only as victim, bait, damsel in distress, and ogling object at any given time of the plot.

She was the mistress of Belicoff, who made of point of abusing her (she got a tattoo on her face because it's the only place he wouldn't hit), and now the hitman locks her in the trunk of the car with a dead body. Moving her to the front seat and threatening to throw her back in the trunk elicits a smile from the poor woman. At least the movie is upfront with the attitude, and while it's a never a commentary on it, the script tries to show its cycle. The screenplay by Skip Woods is too busy with its political plot to get into much else, and there are presidential doubles and shifting political ideologies involved. It doesn't make much sense.

Thankfully, the action sequences do make sense. Director Xavier Gens bucks the trend of hard-to-follow, quickly cut action scenes and allows us to follow the action. We have a chase in the hitman's hotel, with the hero running, jumping, and swinging down the side of the building. There's a chase in a train station that shows the hitman's direct interrogation technique (shoot a guy in different limbs until he talks) and leads to a train car where three other killers from The Organization are somehow awaiting him. It starts with a deadlocked standoff, guns pointed, and turns into a swordfight after the hitman requests to die with a little dignity (swords are conveniently sheathed under their suit coats).

Later, the hitman confronts Belicoff's brother Udre (Henry Ian Cusick), saves a woman from being indiscriminately shot (see, he's no so bad), and goes on to indiscriminately shoot everyone else. It's a bloody affair but staged with a confident enough hand, except for the final sequence in a church, at which point the plot has become a bother. Timothy Olyphant is an actor specializing in a quality where he always seems ready to explode at a moment's notice but manages to keep a calm, stoic demeanor, and it's right here.

One thing I've heard about the video game series is that the first installment is ok, but the sequels get better. Similarly, Hitman is ok, but it sidetracks the intriguing back-story (a religious group that trains killers) for a typical plot. There'll probably be a sequel here, and it's possible the movies could follow the same track I've heard the games do.

Copyright 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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