Hitman (2007) dir. Xavier Gans
Starring: Timothy Olyphant, Olga Kurylenko, Dougray Scott, Ulrich Thomsen
In my review of “Shoot ‘Em Up” I expressed my frustration for the excessive use of ‘double-gun’ shoot-outs. John Woo’s double-gun career is over, and so should everyone else’s. “Hitman” not only uses the double guns, it features it prominently on its poster. Needless to say, my expectations for this film were low. But “Hitman” is not all gun-porn. Writer Skip Woods (“Swordfish”), Director Xavier Gens (“Frontieres) and star Timothy Olyphant, with a wink of Eurotrash humour, create a bloody-satisfying popcorn genre film.
Agent 47 (Olyphant) is patterned out of the Jason Bourne mold of killers – like Bourne, 47 had his identity removed and was brainwashed to be a Terminator-like killer. 47 lives like a wandering soul, at the command of some unknown “organization” called “The Agency”. Interpol supercop Mike (Dougray Scott) has been tracking 47 down for seven years. During this time 47 has killed 100 people across the world (and, according to a brief shot of a pushpin map, a hit in Northern Manitoba – wow!).
Agent 47’s latest gig is to bump off the President of Russia (Ulrich Thomsen). After the job goes down, successfully from 47’s point of view, he discovers a double-cross, which has him really mad and looking for answers…and violent revenge of course. In the middle of the complicated melee is President Belicoff’s favourite Ukrainian prostitute Nika (new Bond girl Olga Kurylenko), who teams up with 47 to solve the mystery.
If the plot sounds a lot like the “Bourne” series, or “The Professional” you’re right. It’s a major influence and piggybacks on the success of the new-Millenium superspy – the brooding uncharismatic identity-less loner. But “Hitman”, which is based on a videogame, retains the bubblegum tone of the videogame genre. Though the film is relatively humourless, unlike Bourne, it never takes itself seriously. Gens and his team know their film is pulp cinema and a low-rent franchise.
So with this attitude Gens maximizes his cinematic possibilities. The film feels like a young expressive filmmaker looking to make a bold career statement. Gens, a Frenchman, previously directed the eye-popping violent horror film “Frontiere(s)”. With that film he pushed the boundaries of violence, gore and good taste. That was the torture-porn genre, and in the gun-porn genre he puts in as much chutzpah.
There’s several action set pieces that make Michael Davis’ “Shoot em Up” sequence look pathetic. The final gun battle is bloody and nasty. Gens doesn’t spare us the great blood squibs we never got in “Shoot em Up”. And Belicoff’s death scene from the bullets of the helicopter encircling and tearing up with his rooftop lair is the most satisfying gunfight I’ve seen in a while.
Not everything in the film is a bulls-eye. The first third of the film is too paced quickly. Gens fails to generate the suspense needed to make the ‘hits’ exciting and thrilling. As a result, at the beginning, the film actually feels like a videogame. Gens gets over the hump and in the second and third acts. Once we get to know 47 and his relationship with Nika the film blossoms and find a good groove.
As well, Timothy Olyphant deserves some credit for taking a stock character – a videogame character – and turning him into someone intriguing enough to want to get to know. The barcode on the back of his shaved head is ridiculous, but I saw it as deadpan humour (and no, we never get to see him get ‘scanned’).
On the DVD special features it’s apparent, despite the pulpiness of the material, Olyphant, Scott and all the other actors took their parts seriously which actually shows up on screen. Combine this with the cinematic energy of a hungry and talented filmmaker, and you see how straight-to-video material gets elevated to respectable popcorn entertainment. Enjoy.
Don’t be dissuaded by the overdramatic trailer.