Maintaining Optimism in the Face of Reality. Occasional observations on the state of the world, society, business and politics. Usually anchored by facts, always augmented by opinion.

A Hit(man) Parade of Film  | e-mail post

I saw The Bourne Supremacy last weekend, and I really enjoyed it. Matt Damon, as Jason Bourne, flies solo through most of this, thus quickening the pace. The camerawork and editing enhance this, giving the film enormous energy.

This weekend I saw Jonathan Demme's Manchurian Candidate. [official site] [IMDB] While it impeccably draws on and delivers the key themes of the original, George Axelrod's script was reworked enough that the tension is palpable even if you know the original. Ultimately, the original probably does more with less, but this update was a very good film.

Liev Schreiber is perfectly cast as the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being any of us have ever known, Seargant Raymond Shaw, played originally by Laurence Harvey. And Meryl Streep reprising an update on Angela Lansbury's role as Shaw's mother is superb, and should certainly earn at least an Oscar nomination as Lansbury's turn did. The production values were superlative, but did not overshadow the power of the story. Personally, I am not a huge Denzel Washington fan, but I've never been a big fan of Sinatra in film, either (music: yes!). Washington plays the role well, especially as the script was rewritten. (Although this 2002 article from the Guaradian hypothesizes George Clooney for the role.)

I was surprised to see Frank Sinatra's daughter, Tina, as a producer on the film. She had the rights to the original film from her father. Old blue eyes actually acquired the rights for the film to prevent it from being screened after his friend JFK was assassinated. Apparently she was fairly actively involved in the production planning; including her insistence that the "Manchurian" name remain in the film, according to this brief interview with Jonathan Demme. You may also enjoy some other notes about the production from CinemaReview.

Reviews: [ NYT ] [ Ebert ] [ LA Weekly ] [ Rolling Stone ] [ SF Chronicle ] [ Boston Globe ]

While at the theater for I then saw the trailer for Collateral, the new Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx film coming out later this week in which Cruise plays a contact killer. Seeing both these films and the Collateral trailer over the past few days reminded me of other films with hitmen and assassins in them. Most of them are quite good, actually, and there really is a film from this genre for almost any occasion.

Political Targets for Fun and Profit
True assassins, of course, are usually focused on taking out people of significance, usually political leaders of some sort.

Edward Fox as The Jackal in "The Day of The Jackal" - In my opinion, the definitive portrayal of an expert assassin. I actually watched it again last night. If you like the Sean Connery James Bond, Fox is your assasin. No matter what, this movie is an A+. Interestingly, the Fox family is quite the acting troupe. In addition to Edward, there is his brother James, daugther Emilia, and nephew Laurence. His other sibling, Robert, is a producer.

Bruce Willis as The Jackal in "The Jackal" - Unlike Fox's Jackal, Willis is burdened by a somewhat absurd plotline and an excessive display of firepower. Richard Gere serves as his nemesis. If you forget about the original Jackal film on which this is supposedly based, it's actually good, if mindless, entertainment. B- if you like the genre, otherwise a C.

John Malcovich as Mitch Leary in "In the Line of Fire" - Possibly the only assassin who seems to be motivated purely to escape a sense of ennui about his life.

Laurence Harvey as Sgt Raymond Shaw in "The Manchurian Candidate" - As I said above, the remake is good, but the original is first rate. Essential viewing. The only film on this list the American Film Institute rates among the 100 Greatest American Movies (at 67, interestingly, it's current rating on IMDB's Top 250 as well).

It's a Job
Sometimes private contractors kill people because that's what they can do and it pays the bills. These are two starkly different films where both killers really just do it to make a living.

Jean Reno as Leon in "Leon" (aka "The Professional") - Probably a fairly accurate portrayal of the personality and day-to-day life of a contract killer, excluding his relationship with Natalie Portman's character. Speaking of which, I strongly recommend the original cut of this film (not the U.S. release version) for it's 24 minutes of additional footage, much of which expands on Natalie Portman's role and relationship with Leon. This is, in my opinion, one of Luc Besson's finest films.

William H. Macy as Alex in "Panic" - I expected a lot from this movie from the previews and the cast, and while it didn't deliver 100%, I give it a solid B+. Macy's turn as a husband/father/hitman was fairly enjoyable to watch. The part that didn't work about the film is the relative absurdity of Macy's situation. Notice that most hitmen and assassins tend to have relatively few deep relationships with other people (outside the rather twisted ones they may have with their targets).

Government-Trained; Sometimes Government-Controlled
My advice to all governments training assassins for any kind of nefarious or secret operation: make sure you have a tight leash!

Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in "The Bourne Identity" - If you haven't already seen this first one, I'd suggest catching it before seeing Bourne Supremacy. It's a B+, in my book.

Anne Parillaud as Nikita in "La Femme Nikita" - Female assassins are rare in film, but Luc Besson brings us Nikita, a criminal who becomes a trained government assassin in exchange for her life. Not only is the story compelling, this is excellent filmmaking, by any standard. A

Bridget Fonda as Nina in "Point of No Return" - This is an Americanized remake of the La Femme Nikita. While it does not appeal to many sophisticated viewers as does La Femme Nikita, it is an adequate film, and I know many who prefer it, although my vote is with the original. B

Peta Wilson as Nikita in "La Femme Nikita: the series" Of course, the film spawned a televsion show as well, which some people loved, and other people, well, didn't. The series was created by Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, who later went on to create the outstanding "24" (although "24" hasn't held my interest past season 2). I have never seen it, but I might have to give it a look based on the creators. [Order La Femme Nikita: Season One] [you can preorder La Femme Nikita: Season Two]

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Hit...
Let's face it, killing people is a strange occupation, and these two comedies do a pretty good job of having fun with the idea and how it impacts people.

Jack Nicholson as Charley Partanna and Kathleen Turner as Irene Walker in "Prizzi's Honor" - The typical hitman meets hitwoman and falls in love story. We all know it, we've all lived it. It gets an A for being a solid movie, even though it is, strictly speaking, a romantic comedy. Anjelica Huston won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in the film.

John Cusack as Martin Q. Blank in "Grosse Point Blank" - John Cusack and Dan Akroyd as hitmen, in a unique comedic treatment of a hit man experiencing some angst leading up to his high school reunion. A wonderful black comedy. A.

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