Category Archives: Hit-Man

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Sicario (2015) 4.14/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77
Genre: Crime
Duration: 121 mins
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Stars: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicio Del Toro

Cold and sinister narco-thriller with Emily Blunt top-lining as a FBI agent recruited by the CIA for a series of clandestine operations against a powerful Mexican cartel. As the missions begin to increasingly circumvent the law, the beleaguered agent grows suspicious of Josh Brolin’s lead agent and ever fearful of his mysterious cartel expert, Benicio Del Toro. After an admirable attempt in Prisoners, director Denis Villeneuve succeeds in crafting a morally bleak thriller with sufficient traction and believability to keep the audience engrossed all the way through. The war on drugs is articulated almost completely through the actions of the protagonists. The drama is shot with a slow-thudding realism while the dialogue chills the story a couple degrees lower. Left of centre to the plot, Blunt is subtly magnificent as she manages to stay relevant even while her character is necessarily marginalised. On the other side of things, Brolin is quietly having a ball but Del Toro is just plain scary. The narco-wars are very much in vogue at the moment but on several occasions, Sicario peels off a layer or two and reels us towards a world not often seen. Yes, the narrative moves inescapably towards Hollywood’s notion of closure but there are a sufficient number of unfamiliar twists and turns to intrigue the most ardent fans. Roger Deacons’ crisp textures and contrasts are central to this experience as is Joe Walker’s editing but it’s Villeneuve’s steely focus that makes this so darkly compelling.

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Red Eye (2005) 3.57/5 (4)

 

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Rating: The Good – 73.4
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 85 mins
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Rachel McAdams, Cillian Murphy, Brian Cox

A hotel manager is co-opted into an assassination plot by the man sitting next to her on the plane when he threatens to have her father killed if she doesn’t follow his instructions regarding a high profile guest staying at her hotel. Wes Craven coolly turned his hand to the art of straight suspense in this metronomic thriller that scores on every level it aims at. Rachael McAdams is the woman who finds herself next to Cillian Murphy’s very creepy passenger from hell and she delivers an admirably even performance as the likeable yet focused young woman. After his character dispenses with the not very deceptively charming persona, Murphy settles into the role of slimy puppeteer and the pair do well to shoulder much of the movie from the confines of the plane. That said, the always solid Brian Cox is on hand as the father on the ground and Jayma Mays is fantastic as McAdams’ nervous assistant back in the hotel. With a concept thriller like this, Carl Ellsworth’s screenplay was always going to be the ultimate decider in whether Red Eye rises above the ordinary and, happily, it sets a tempered balance between the psychological and visceral as Murphy’s threat bombardment intermittently boils over into physical intimidation. Craven uses the small space of the plane to quicken the pace keeping matters especially energised with his typically clever use of character movement. As the movie races to a close, he dips into his time honoured tool bag to generate some modest scares and, while somewhat familiar, they provide a tidy outlet for all that in-flight anxiety. At the production level, the movie boasts a degree of accomplishment that makes it all the more than enjoyable to watch.

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Midnight Run (1988) 4.33/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 74.9
Genre: Action, Comedy
Duration: 126 mins
Director: Martin Brest
Stars: Robert De Niro, Charles Grodin, Yaphet Kotto

About as much fun as you can have watching one guy drag another cross country, Midnight Run is a minor triumph on the résumé of Robert De Niro who stars as a bounty hunter attempting to bring in Charles Grodin’s crooked accountant while being pursued by the mob, the FBI, and a competing bounty hunter. The movie is chockfull of motley characters played with an abundance of personality (not to mention a generous comedic license), from Yaphet Kotto’s testy FBI agent, John Ashton’s indefatigable pain-in-the-ass bounty hunter, to Dennis Farina’s hilariously baleful mob boss who spends most of the movie threatening his hapless goons with various forms of highly imaginative corporal punishment. De Niro embraces the easy comedy of George Gallo’s classy screenplay and drives the movie with an acerbic moxie but, despite a well balanced chemistry, Grodin (along with Farina) steals the show with his usual combination of dry warmth and laconic delivery. Martin Brest directs it all with an understated panache adding little touches here and there that contribute richly to the overarching sense of fun – such as Robert Miranda’s big lug of a henchman mock boxing with Richard Foronjy as the latter pleads with Farina over the phone for forgiveness. Everything skips along to Danny Elfman’s mirthful score in an unapologetically lighthearted style but there’s enough drama wrapped up within Gallo’s neat plot to justify Midnight Run’s status as one of the 1980’s best comedy thrillers.

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Into the Night (1985) 4/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.2
Genre: Comedy, Thriller
Duration: 115 mins
Director: John Landis
Stars: Jeff Goldblum, Michelle Pfeiffer, Carmen Argenziano

A wild and trippy furlough into the LA night as envisaged within the quirky mind of John Landis at the height of his powers. Jeff Goldblum stars as an aerospace engineer suffering from insomnia, marital discord, and a general malaise. Michelle Pfeiifer is the confident and plucky damsel in distress who jumps into his car on lonely sleepless night only to see them both pursued by a peculiar group of foreign gangsters led by the director himself. Ron Koslow may have written this wonderfully off-kilter comedy thriller but make no mistake, it’s Landis’ world we are thrown into where the ride is as enjoyable as it is unique. The variety of peripheral and support characters is a treat to behold as are their various realisations at the hands of a brilliantly counter-intuitive cast of actors (David Bowie’s bizarre hit-man alone makes this one worth the watch). But paramount among the movie’s virtues is the foundation in which the plot is rooted. Convincing the audience to tag along on such a meandering journey isn’t simply about ingeniously engineered set-pieces (which Into the Night offers in spades) but a weight of reality that could see a normal Joe’s life shunted into hyper-reality. Like Scorsese did that very same year in After Hours, Landis places huge faith in his leading man’s ability to strike a paradoxical balance between delicacy and sturdiness. And in achieving that, Jeff Goldlum becomes the rock against which the delightful insanity can repeatedly crash. If anything, Landis ups the ante on Scorsese by adding a similarly finely tuned lead performance into the mix which not only bolsters her co-star’s but offers the madness a second pillar to rest on. Pfeiffer is nothing short of exquisite in a feisty reformulation of the femme fatale trope adding as much solidity as she does intrigue. And it helps not a little that her and Goldblum click like few male-female on-screen partnerships have! It’s all wrapped up in a rather pretty package too as Landis and his director of photography Robert Paynter shoot it in the soft night glow of 1980’s L.A. and soundtrack it to Ira Newborn’s equally contemporaneous (not to mention sumptuous) electronic score. A must see!

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Film 'THE BODYGUARD' (1992) starring KEVIN COSTNER, WHITNEY HOUSTON
Directed By MICK JACKSON
25 November 1992
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Thriller

The Bodyguard (1992) 0.21/5 (14)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 61.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 128 mins
Director: Mick Jackson
Stars: Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston, Gary Kemp

Stoic protector Kevin Costner is hired to mind diva movie star Whitney Houston when her life is threatened by an anonymous maniac. With his client growing increasingly unhappy with the new restrictions on her life and everything happening in the midst of an entourage, the methodical minder gets more than he bargained for, especially when he inevitably falls for the women he’s supposed to be protecting. Nauseatingly hyped on its release, The Bodyguard is one of those movies which the world seemed happy to forget in recent decades. However, as a straight up thriller, we’ve seen a lot worse than a relatively original premise being executed with enough twists and turns to keep its audience guessing. The problem lies in the romantic angle which, at all times, seems at odds with characters who are written fit for purpose with the movie’s plot. Writer Lawrence Kasdan needed to raise the sophistication of his characters if he wanted to provide a tenser platform for the mushy stuff but, as it is, their bog-standardness ensure they can’t support anything other than the most basic drama. Fine for a straight thriller, not so fine for a romantic drama. Not surprisingly, therefore, Costner has frequently been better but even at half speed he manages to cut a decent lead. Houston is a little more mixed in her performance. In what could of been an interestingly reflexive role, the actual singer come movie star Houston escapes any acting acrobatics by simply playing herself. And though there are shades of charisma here and there, she spends most of the film belting out one painfully plain song after another before she makes her way to the then showstopping cover of Dolly Parton’s country classic. It’s a whiny turn by virtue of Kasdan’s lack of character ambitions not to mention her limitations as an actress but she nonetheless succeeds in giving us some brief moments of chemistry between her and most of her co-stars. Unfortunately, Costner isn’t one of them and so whenever the movie is shoved into its romantic gear, it labours to keep moving.

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True Romance (1993) 3.97/5 (5)

 

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Rating: The Good – 78
Genre: Crime, Action
Duration: 120 mins
Director: Tony Scott
Stars: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Brad Pitt

Tony Scott’s finest hour came when he purchased a young video store clerk’s script and executed it with much of the panache and dry wit that the same clerk would soon become renowned for. It tells the story of a geek-come-wild boy Christian Slater who falls in love with prostitute Patricia Arquette, kills her slightly deranged pimp, accidentally steals his cocaine, and then attempts to sell it to some rich Hollywood producer before the coke’s real owner, mob boss Christopher Walken, tracks him down with prejudice.

True Romance quickly became a cult classic because it cut across genres with the same audacity as Reservoir Dogs did. Colourful characters posing hip monologues, an unlikely romance at the center that flavours the entire movie with an essential unreal vibe, and more fists and guns action than you can shake a stick at ensures that the entire caper is bags of unpredictable fun and looks a treat too. With the verve that Scott’s movies were always reaching for coming pre-loaded with Quentin Tarantino’s white hot script, the former commercial director softens his touch and lets the dialogue do the talking. Free from intrusive editing and over the top score, his consistently outstanding scene composition is finally given the room to breathe and the time to be appreciated. Smokey slats of light grace everything with a cosy noir-esque ambiance, perfectly backdropping the lyricism of Tarantino’s words and the enthusiastic performances that bring them to life.

In that last regard, Slater has never been better and he shares a magnetic chemistry with the even better Arquette. Walken is Walken (in the best way possible), Hopper is in fine form as Slater’s estranged father, Oldman is forgivably over the top as the crazed pimp with an epic inferiority complex, and Brad Pitt is a riot as Slater’s L.A. stoner buddy. However, in one of the smaller parts, it’s James Gandolfini who nearly steals the show as the very real (in a wonderful contrast to practically everything else) and very scary enforcer. The last word should go to Hans Zimmer though who, on his own, seems to give this movie a tenderness that raises it above your standard actioner. Okay, not quite in his own, Scott, Tarantino, and Gandolfini helped, a lot.

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In the Line of Fire (1993) 4/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 128 mins
Director: Wolfgang Petersen
Stars: Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Rene Russo

Superb thriller in which an ageing secret service agent and former bodyguard to JFK is taunted by a skilled but unhinged assassin as he puts into practice his plan to kill the current President. Several factors contribute to the success of this movie, from the quality of its cast to the tense set pieces. However, chief among them is Jeff Maguire’s taut, often witty screenplay and Clint Eastwood’s central turn. Typically better in quieter roles, Eastwood shines her as the strict old pro with a wicked sense of humour. In fact, outside of Unforgiven (made only a year earlier), In the Line of Fire is arguably his strongest overall performance across his career. Full of smart ass charm and gnarly wiles, he sets the stage for a great showdown with nasty John Malkovich who revels in the role of the aggrieved assassin. A game of mental chess ensues, played out over the telephone wires and the trail of clues the latter intentionally and unintentionally leaves behind. Renne Russo as a bemused female agent and inevitable love interest and John Mahoney as the Director of the Secret Service bolster this central dynamic and several high tension sequences interspersed throughout offer balance to the verbal drama. Director Wolfgang Peterson shows a deft hand during these sequences but one wonders what a more visually astute director would’ve made of the potentially much darker subject matter. As it stands, In the Line of Fire is strong on entertainment but perhaps a little light on mood given the rich psychological ground it ploughs. But the former is delivered in such accomplished manner, it’s of minor consideration and watching Clint sparring with Malkovich and Russo and getting as good as he gives is enough of a treat.

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Hidden Gems

Red Rock West (1993) 4.43/5 (1)

 

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Rating: The Good – 77.1
Genre: Crime
Duration: 98 mins
Director: John Dahl
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle

It may have been forgotten over the years but John Dahl’s moody thriller is about as good as it gets. Back when he was one of the most interesting actors on the scene, Nicolas Cage took the lead role in this neo noir as a former marine drifting through the town of Red Rock when he gets mistaken for a hitman by a bar owner (J.T. Walsh) who wants to do away with his wife. (Laura Flynn Boyle). Broke and out of gas, he takes the money with the intention of warning the wife and leaving town but it’s not long before the real hitman shows up in the form of the not surprisingly unhinged Dennis Hopper.

In a town straight out of a Coen Bros. film, Cage soon finds himself up to his neck in double crosses and murder to the point that you won’t know where he’s going to end up. Dahl’s soft atmospheric lighting sets an intuitive backdrop for all those unravelling plans and slippery loyalties. Cage is an outstanding rube with just enough about him to stay one step ahead of them while Flynn Boyle was born to play an out and out femme fatale. Walsh does what he always did so well though his nastiness is nicely tempered by a doubt and trepidation that his other villains were not often afforded. Of course, Hopper owns the screen when he’s sharing it but he doesn’t give us an undiluted lunatic. Like everyone else in Red Rock, he’s motivated by money and quite rational about how he’s going to get it. Sure, if he gets the squeeze his trigger all the better!

There’s a luscious script beating at the heart of all the action infused with the outlaw romance of the west as Dahl and his brother Rick reveal a keen ear for the way people talk when in trouble. Red Rock West is what you get when all the ambitions are in the right place and everyone is clear on their role and tailor-made for the job. A thriller pure of focus and rich in theme.

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Wanted (2008) 3.19/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 60
Genre: Action, Fantasy
Duration: 110 mins
Director: Timur Bekmambetov
Stars: Angelina Jolie, James McAvoy, Morgan Freeman

It might seem redundant to state that a movie about a secret cult of weavers turned assassins is at best a guilty pleasure but so derivative is this one that it really does need saying. With its comic book premise that itself was cobbled together from dozens of better sources and with a sprinkle of madcap mayhem, James McAvoy stars as a painfully ordinary nobody who, after Angelina Jolie shows up to repeatedly beat the crap out of him, discovers his birthright is to be a super-assassin and avenge his similarly employed father. Absurdly obscure superpowers considered and colourless bad guy aside, this one kind of skirts along of the far boundaries of tolerance thanks to the rollercoaster of fun it serves up. So detached is it from making sense that you’ll gladly just give in and absorb the bullet-bending, car-flipping carnage and chuckle at the few decent jokes they manage to cram in between. McAvoy’s boyish charm helps a lot and when Jolie isn’t doing her smug “I-know-something-that-you-don’t” face, she cuts another fine action heroine. Together, they are fine but don’t expect the chemistry of Ford and Fisher. Noteworthy in his presence is Morgan Freeman who pops up in a (not atypically) curious cameo too but to little effect because Wanted is McAvoy and Jolie’s bag.

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Crank (2006) 2.71/5 (2)

 

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Rating: The Ugly – 64.4
Genre: Action
Duration: 88 mins
Director: Mark Neveldine/Brian Taylor
Stars: Jason Statham, Amy Smart, Carlos Sanz

With all its flashy “CSI”-ish editing, any self-respecting movie fan should hate this film but its free-form action hilarity is liable to best even the most hardened of movie snobs. Jason Statham is a hit-man who wakes up to find himself poisoned with a drug that is slowly shutting his system down until he’s brown bread. Not the kind of guy to take things lying down, he immediately sets out on the trail of his poisoners while using any means possible to keep his system fired up with adrenaline. As wild as the premise is, it undeniably makes a great platform for a comedy-action movie and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments of madness along the way. Don’t think too much about this one, simply give in to the sublimely ridiculous.

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Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) 4.34/5 (13)

 

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Rating: The Good – 88.5
Genre: Action, Comedy
Duration: 107 mins
Director: George Armitage
Stars: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd

Completely original black comedy with a razor sharp wit and superb performances throughout, Grosse Pointe Blank is that rare achievement where every aspect of the film’s production is perfectly tuned. That’s right, this film is perfect – from the immensely innovative action sequences, to the quirky searing humour, to its real sounding yet slickly cool dialogue, to the fantastic array of actors who one and all ‘get’ the script, this film is perfect. John Cusack plays Martin Blank, a hit man going through an existential (or just plain “guilt”) crisis who has to return to his home town for the first time in 10 years to do a job. Of course, it just so happens the job coincides with his 10 year high school reunion and still living in that town is the girl of his dreams (literally) whom he stood up on prom night to run off and join the army. Needless to say, much fun is had as he bumps into a series of characters all of whom he has a past with (pasts which are never explicitly mentioned) and goes from existential crisis to near on full melt down. And on top of all that, an utterly deranged colleague (played superbly by Dan Aykroyd) is lurking about as he attempts to force Martin to join a hit man union… or pay the price!

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Pelican-Brief

The Pelican Brief (1993) 3.09/5 (3)

 

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Rating: The Good – 66.7
Genre: Thriller
Duration: 141 mins
Director: Alan J. Pakula
Stars: Julia Roberts, Denzel Washington, Sam Shepard

Alan J. Pakula’s adaptation of John Grisham’s novel is a somewhat ponderous tale of political intrigue concerning the assassination of two Supreme Court judges and the law student and journalist who uncover the plot. Julia Roberts plays the determined law student and Denzel Washington the hot shot journalist who compile and investigate the dangerously accurate theory of why the judges were killed while dodging bullets, car bombs, and anything else the assassins who are pursuing them can come up with.

The plot to the film has a classical edge to it in that it’s simple in essence but revolves around a number of parties. It unfolds in a way that adds colour to the story and keeps the audience guessing which is exactly what you want from a thriller. Pakula’s direction of the tenser moments is fine if a little underwhelming but his ability to build tension through pacing and framing works its usual magic in the earlier sequences. A scene introducing Stanley Tucci’s hit-man recalls some of the cloak and dagger intrigue of All the Presidents’ Men and the patient buildup of the assassinations echoes similar sequences in The Parallax View.

Moreover, what some might consider a weakness – the lack of a romantic relationship between the two central characters – is actually one of the movie’s strengths, adding, as it does, more interest and unspoken depth to their interchanges. A central platonic dynamic wasn’t decided upon for that reason, however, but  rather because Hollywood still had (had?) a problem with interracial romances back in the 90’s. Thankfully, that’s all changed…!

The problem with the movie emerges as it progresses. Roberts’ star was at its zenith around the time that this film was made and it leads to a peculiar problem. The movie seems to be caught between being a substantial thriller where plot comes first and a vehicle for its headline act. Thus, when the story needs to be pushed forward it often stands still for an unnecessarily long emotional scene in which Julia shows off her acting chops. This places a drag on the film’s momentum and affects the relevance of other characters, many of whom, are relegated to obscure cameos. Sam Shepard is more than capable in one of the more extended roles (Roberts’ law professor and secret lover) as is John Lithgow (Washington’s editor) but Tony Goldwyn (the president’s nefarious chief counsel) and particularly William Atherton (the Head of CIA) are wasted.

Though neither as popular nor respected as Roberts was at time time, Washington was himself arguably climbing rapidly towards the peak of his powers in the early-mid 90’s. Yet, he almost gets lost here. Not for a lack of talent of course but because the story seems to realign itself with Robert’s character at times when his character should be coming to the fore. Roberts, for her part, was never a bad actress and she had and continues to have huge presence. She’s quite good in the role of the frightened yet wilful young go-getter but her character’s whispering grief at key moments in the film can be a little irritating – like listening to someone in need of a good cough!

For hardened fans of intrigue and shadowy plot, The Pelican Brief will fall far short of those classics that gave its sub-genre and the film’s director its standing. Nonetheless, it remains a worthy stab at a Grisham legal thriller and there’s enough there to satisfy anyone looking for a couple of hours of engaging conspiracy drama.

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