– Summary –
Director : Xavier Gens
Cast : Timothy Olyphant, Olga Kurylenko, Dougray Scott, Robert Knepper, Ulrich Thomsen, Henry Ian Cusick, Michael Offel.
Year Of Release : 2007
Length : 94 minutes
Synopsis: A hitman is hired to dispose of a political leader, but when he is double-crossed, seeks revenge on those who tried to kill him.
Review : Tepid, although stylish, film version of the famous computer game, relies less on story and more on style to get it’s point across.
Based on the highly successful shooter game, Hitman is yet another in a long line of films coming through the Hollywood system based on a successful genre. In a similar way that the comic book has often been a staple of filmic heroes, so too has the ubiquitous shoot-em-up computer game (think Resident Evil 1, 2 & 3, Silent Hill, Doom) in recent years.
Now, I would never profess to being a gamer, never having played too many shooters while growing up. About the only place I dared to go was Doom 3 for a few months, and then outside forces ensured I wouldn’t again for a while. That said, I have had enough experience with games of this nature to understand their appeal to a mass audience, and also to understand why Hollywood would choose to tap into what has, until now, been a relatively underutilized resource.
Obviously, computer games are not filmic by their very nature. Their story-lines do not lend themselves to instant silver screen success. There’s not a whole deal of emotive character development involved in a pixel driven world of explosions, gunfire and mayhem. So how does Hollywood combat these shortcomings? Simple: they take the known world of the computer game and its associated characters, and gives them characterization.
Take Resident Evil, for example: one of the most successful game-to-movie franchises to come out of Tinseltown. Essentially a horror film wrapped up in a slickly executed scare-fest, filled with all the hallmarks of the game (but without the story being subservient to the hallmarks) the series has recently released the third entry out onto the DVD market. Tomb Raider was always going to be a success, you’d have thought, until Jan de Bont continued his career spiral with the second film and ended the series quite quickly. Mortal Kombat and it’s sequel paved the way for less than complementary special effects, while Wing Commander did for the careers of Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Matthew Lillard what Battlefield Earth did for John Travolta.
But for every Resident Evil, there’s a Streetfighter or three dozen Pokemon films. Yeah, game-to-film adaptations have been pretty hit and miss in terms of quality. And not being familiar with the game a film is based on, makes watching it a slightly hollow experience.
So it was that when I settled down to give Hitman a go, knowing it was based on a game I had never played and would undoubtedly be filled with in-jokes and references to the original medium, I was prepared for the worst. I hadn’t heard any rave reviews about it, so I wasn’t confident of anything other than a standard action/blood-fest genre piece.
Needless to say, I was not far wrong with my initial assessment. Hitman is a slickly made, bloody show-piece for rising star Timothy Olyphant, and French director Xavier Gens ensures his presence is felt in every frame of the film. Olyphant is perhaps more familiar to general audiences as the “bad guy” from the most recent Die Hard installment: here he gets even less to say and hardly any room to emote.
Let’s get one thing straight from the outset: Hitman was never going to win any awards, and it’s certainly no stretch for any of the cast to do anything other than become ciphers for the script which appears more interested in gunplay and blood-letting than actually turning in a decent story. Which is problematic for films of this genre, since most people come to these films with the idea that it will somehow have expanded on the world they already know from the game and not just merely recycle worn out set-pieces and clichés of the genre. Here, Hitman fails to deliver. The story is simply not good enough for a feature film, it holds together about as well as a shot up western bar. The characters are barely defined, reduced to snarling and glaring their way across the screen, barely registering anything other than ill-defined “emotion” in a way that’s just a reason for people to pull out the weapons. While I don’t exactly find this displeasing, it’s certainly a far cry from more superior efforts like Resident Evil, which at least attempted to shoehorn actual characterisation into what was essentially a beefed up zombie film.
Olyphant looks like he’s been given a whole truckload of bad news before each scene, he barely raises an eyebrow to any of the events that occur: a critical mistake in the script… the central character needs to be able to relate to the audience in some way, to make us connect (or care) with him and his plight. Here, this is not the case. Olyphant is a superb actor, and it’s easy to see why he would have made this role a great one, but he is limited by the script and a directive to never smile or show emotion, something that hamstrings the films redeeming qualities.
The bad guys of the film are dispatched with relative ease by our hero (after all, what did you expect in a film with the title of Hitman?) and while his prowess is spoken of, and shown quite often, he never really seems to be truly tested, to be put under pressure or given a challenge to which he might not walk away from. Again, this lack of real tension hampers the audiences connection to reality with the film.
The last thing that makes the film suffer is the choice of leading lady. Poor Olga Kurylenko might look pretty, but she’s no actress. She’s about as much an actress as Meryl Streep is a porn star.
Her wooden performance throughout much of the film, even with clothes off, is stilted and jarring, and enough to pull me out of the film. Her performance here does not bode well for her next appearance on screen, in the next Bond film, Quantum of Solace.
Those who have seen the film might feel I am being unduly harsh on a film which is based on a computer game where the central character is a silent, creeping assassin. I don’t wish to be, but I feel that pointing out the films downsides, only makes the plusses more important.
Director Gens seems adept at filming action scenes, his breathtaking cinematography is staggering to behold and is as good as you’ll see, yet the film still manages to fall flat somehow, probably due to most of the above criticisms. Gens frames his movies well, with excellent use of the wider aspect ratio, yet manages to remain somewhat aloof from the characters… either by choice or accident. There is a particularly good fight sequence between Olyphants’ Agent 47 character and other assassin types in a train carriage, and a blistering gun battle in what appears to be some kind of jacuzzi, but otherwise most of the action is standard fare that would fit in well with any other genre piece.
The film looks slick, but belies it’s game-y origins with some somewhat excessive violence (and it is often quite excessive!) and stylistic limitations.
Perhaps the best part of the whole film is the soundtrack, a thumping orchestral/techno/metal mix that’s pure energy and entirely suitable. Geoff Zanelli is a composer I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for in future, if this score is anything to go by.
As far as a great film, Hitman manages to be anything but, nevertheless, if you’re looking for violent, hyper-kinetic escapist fare, this is as good an excuse as any. Olyphant is neutered by a formulaic script and direction, which makes this that much more of a shame.
It must be noted that I did try and keep an open mind about the film, to try and approach it in the way it was obviously intended, but for some reason the film still managed to make me wish it was a lot better. I wound up being entertained a little, but disappointed more by what could have been a great action film; it ended up being merely okay.