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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Movie Review: 'Hitman: Agent 47'

Relying on tired action and glitzy sequences, Hitman: Agent 47 forgets that story matters, too.

Review by Matt Cummings

It's possible that we've witnessed an earth-shattering moment in film this summer. With the arrival of Mad Max: Fury Road, a new corner has been turned in terms of action and story, forcing changes on everything that come after it and making everything in its wake look second class. That's the feeling you'll get when watching Hitman: Agent 47, a film littered with talent and prospects but whose script and action never rise to the occasion.

A reboot of the failed 2007 version starring Timothy Olyphant, Agent 47 stars Rupert Friend, a genetically-modified assassin who is supposed to be impervious to emotion and love. Precise and impeccably dressed, he sports a barcode on his bald head and a penchant for killing. Normally sent out to maintain his murderous order, this time he must make sure that the technology which produced him is not exploited by another company called the Syndicate (no relation to the one in Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation) led by LeClerq (Thomas Kretschmann). Employing his own hitman John Smith (Zachary Quinto), he eventually locates the daughter of the Agent program, the beautiful but troubled Katia (Hannah Ware), who may have some of her father's program in her blood. As 47 and Smith violently clash, Katia - who is also searching for her father Dr. Litvenko (Ciaran Hinds) - begins to develop her abilities, but must decide if 47's loyalties can be trusted as their head for a bloodbath in Singapore.

It's not that Hitman: Agent 47 is awful like Fantastic Four, because the direction by helmer Aleksander Bach is solid, filled with rich textures and sometimes beautifully-captured moments. Its cast is an intriguing mix of veteran talent and splashy newcomers, led by Ware and eventually Hinds. The real problem lies squarely on Writers Skip Woods and Michael Finch and the stunt coordinators/Second Unit directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch; you'll remember them as the geniuses behind John Wick. In 47, neither team goes out of their way to elevate the film in any meaningful way, the first barely filling each scene with enough good dialogue to sustain it to the next action sequence, with the other team acting like their stunt budget was a fraction of Wick. Those sequences are shot and edited so closely that they feel like a typical takedown from ABC's Agents of SHIELD, with the hero clearly not in the middle of the fracas, yet jumping back into position at the end of the sequence as if they were there all along.

Ware is simply gorgeous to look at, and her acting clearly shows she doesn't need the boys around to keep herself safe. Yet early on, we have no idea why she's tracking Litvento and even admits it to 47 before the shooting starts. Her visceral reactions to being placed in danger by 47 are memorable and actually satisfying, which is less than I can say for the over-the-top action. Again, it's not like those sequences are awful, but after being graced this year with Fury Road and Rogue Nation, it's hard to support the 90's style work we see here. Hinds is very good as Litvenko, his chemistry with Ware instantly apparent as the father who will do anything to protect his child/lab project. Friend is serviceable in the titular role, but he constantly vacillates between stone-cold assassin and chatty revenge seeker. That's not 47's MO, and his reasoning for protecting Katia is revealed to us in a flash that you'll miss if you're not looking. Their lack of communication about that moment after it's revealed is the emotional core that appears to be missing.

Kretschmann never becomes a baddie we can hate, his shortened performance in Avengers: Age of Ultron as Baron Strucker coming across far better than Le Clerq. But again, it's that lack of emotional core and far-fetched story beats that keeps Hitman: Agent 47 from becoming the next John Wick, although it's apparent someone was hoping otherwise. What's more, we never learn much behind the Agent program, why it's so intent on bringing Katia and her father together, and why it wouldn't just take out LeClerq with a nicely guided missile. It's too busy showing us what brains look like splattered on a wall and collecting its product placements from Audi without giving us a reason to care.

If the purpose behind Hitman: Agent 47 was to re-establish a franchise hopeful of long-term sustainability, its prospects are not good. Led by an intriguing cast, but a merely decent script and tired action sequences, it could find itself repeating a thoroughly overused element from the film, that of being forced to to look at someone's tail lights as they race ahead of you to victory. It's not awful, but in this age of Mad Max it's overly-simple entertainment that will be instantly forgettable the moment you leave the theater, making any endorsement a difficult bargain at best.

Hitman: Agent 47 is rated R for sequences of strong violence and some language and has a runtime of 96 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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