Total Recall

Total Recall: Thank Goodness For Hit Men

This Thanksgiving Day, take a moment to think about all those underappreciated assassins, just like the pilgrims used to.

by | November 23, 2007 | Comments

It’s Black Friday. If you’re not at home (and taking
precious family time to read RT, for which we thank you), then you’re at the
mall picking up bargains whilst navigating this week’s deluge of wide releases.
Among them is Hitman, the tale of a skilled contract killer who finds
himself in the midst of deadly political intrigue, and we figure it would be a
good time to explore the dark, disreputable cinematic world of the gun-for-hire.

For vicarious thrills, it’s hard to top movies about contract killers. There’s
something fascinating about watching characters that operate in shadowy
territory, following their own unyielding codes of ethics, getting into and out
of danger on the strength of their wits. Movies about hitmen swim in moral
ambiguity, asking audiences to identify with, or even root for, people who are
in the business of killing. Cinemagoers have long had obsessions with contract
killers — even if they were one-dimensional characters, so long as they looked
cool (Boba Fett, anyone?). But in the past decades, they’ve been flying out of
the margins in a big way, discovering some personality and taking on lives of their own.


After cutting his teeth on drama and action flicks like
The Big
Blue
(67 percent on the Tomatometer) and
La Femme Nikita
(82 percent), director
Luc Besson hit
his groove with 1994’s
Léon
(aka The
Professional
, 72 percent).
Jean Reno stars
as the titular character, a withdrawn hitman saddled with an orphaned 12-year-old (Natalie
Portman
) after her family is slaughtered by a corrupt cop (Gary
Oldman
). The cast and crew were firing on all cylinders with this one: Reno’s
befuddled French guy and Portman’s tomboy pixie acts are endearing; Oldman makes even something as mundane as taking a pill amusingly bombastic; and
Besson’s trademark action scenes never felt as casually cool as they did here,
especially Léon’s climatic fight defending his apartment.
“Luc Besson’s lone-hitman thriller sees a 12 year-old
Natalie Portman push the boundaries of love and pedophilia,” writes Shannon J.
Harvey of Australia’s Sunday Times, “[It’s] as emotionally complex as it
is a slick action thrill-ride.”

1994 proved to be a banner year for hitmen public relations. Not only did
Léon strive to show a killer in a sympathetic light, but
Quentin
Tarantino
also fine-tuned their image in
Pulp Fiction
(96
percent), presenting hitmen not as just mere antagonists who showed up, did
their dirty work, and then disappeared. Pulp Fiction‘s killers (Samuel
L. Jackson
and
John Travolta)
were out-and-out bad dudes, but Tarantino also delved into their lives before
and after murder gigs, creating a portrait of two otherwise regular guys who
suffered mid-career crises and engaged in trite conversations.



The Léon trailer.


Most cinematic hitmen operate with an air of detached routine. Few are guided by
an ancient code of conduct. The titular hero in 1999’s

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
(80 percent) is a singular
character in the hitman movie pantheon: contract killer, student of samurai
codes, ornithology enthusiast.
Jim Jarmusch‘s
moody, darkly funny film follows Ghost Dog (Forest
Whittaker
), who carries out contract killings for a local mobster who saved
his life years before, operating in almost total anonymity (they communicate via
homing pigeon). When one of Ghost Dog’s assignments goes awry, the mob decides
he needs to be rubbed out.

Ghost Dog expertly borrows the moody ambience of

Jean-Pierre Melville
‘s
Le Samourai
(100
percent) and the dark absurdity of
Seijun Suzuki‘s
Branded to Kill
(100 percent), and features a hypnotic score from the Wu Tang Clan’s
RZA. It’s a very
strange movie, one that combines genre thrills with Jarmusch’s trademark
quirkiness. Whittaker is on top of his game, playing a character who’s either a
stern, ritualistic loner or a man who’s deeply, deeply troubled; the performance
is so pitch-perfect that it could be read either way. “Ghost Dog is an
impeccably shot and sensationally scored deadpan parody of two current popular
modes — the hit-man glorification saga and the Cosa Nostra family drama,” wrote
J. Hoberman from the Village Voice.



Ghost Dog: Freakin’ ninja moves.


Pierce Brosnan
had only recently left his role as the unflappable 007 when he starred as
Julian, the gun-shy assassin in 2005’s
The Matador

(75 percent). Beleaguered and struggling with a quasi-existential crisis, one
can’t help thinking that Julian’s professional impotence owes something to his
tenure at the MI6. But this high-level assassin looks more like a traveling
salesman than an International Man of Mystery: working from a suitcase, keeping
no ties, and finding his happiness in either bottles or brothels. When he meets
unlucky nice guy Danny (Greg
Kinnear
), Julian is confronted with all the experiences he might have had if
he only treated life as something that couldn’t be traded for a briefcase full
of bills.

Sure it could have gone tacky and cliché — hit man finds his conscience — but
instead Brosnan’s psychology is as illusive as a hitman after a mark. Meanwhile,
Kinear’s Danny practices his own brand of character assassination by spreading
the word of his encounter with Julian to all his cocktail hour consorts.
Unmoored in the seas of international intrigue and middle management, Julian and
Danny alternate between clinging to each other and fleeing from each other.
While a tad befuddling, The Matador makes for good cocktail conversation.
“After you see this delightful black comedy about a hit man gone to seed, you’ll
never again pigeonhole Brosnan as a tuxedo-clad sophisticate with nerves of
steel,” wrote Jack Garner of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.


The Matador: Struttin’.

If you can’t get enough of cinematic assassins, lock and load your Netflix queue
with
Point of No Return
(45 percent),
Grosse Point
Blank
(76 percent), and
The Memory of a
Killer
(83 percent).

Authors: Alex Vo, Tim Ryan, Sara Schieron

Tag Cloud

ghosts VOD Valentine's Day The CW game of thrones Film Festival Fall TV game show a nightmare on elm street MCU kids robots PlayStation YouTube indie adenture Tomatazos Winter TV romance sequels mission: impossible Reality Competition FXX anthology psychological thriller BBC America Funimation italian rt archives chucky spider-man Superheroes 2015 Sony Pictures Video Games E! Star Wars 2021 Animation The Witch festivals 2018 kong First Reviews legend LGBT Year in Review Pet Sematary Wes Anderson mutant revenge football french cars Apple TV+ RT History mockumentary Disney Mary Tyler Moore ESPN Ellie Kemper 71st Emmy Awards Western renewed TV shows Pop TV ID Television Academy Kids & Family Photos olympics HBO Go Holidays Showtime Interview Adult Swim political drama archives romantic comedy RT21 cancelled Columbia Pictures Amazon Prime Video Apple TV Plus Britbox blaxploitation name the review Peacock heist movie cartoon twilight Spring TV spinoff crime TCM zombie E3 Election book adaptation hidden camera Disney+ Disney Plus king arthur 93rd Oscars First Look halloween tv 2019 dark Stephen King hist scene in color social media Binge Guide obituary cults movie Quiz Logo foreign TLC comics Teen dc black Travel Channel free movies New York Comic Con 1990s Comic-Con@Home 2021 transformers new zealand The Academy series cancelled television dragons Fox News Comedy OneApp prank The Walt Disney Company Syfy talk show Mindy Kaling Box Office TBS singing competition natural history MSNBC Turner Classic Movies king kong Trophy Talk Biopics vampires Discovery Channel Marvel Trivia Pirates award winner crime drama rotten movies we love critics ViacomCBS Warner Bros. die hard docuseries scorecard sequel Nominations Anna Paquin Ovation screenings ITV President live action streaming Legendary disaster 4/20 Baby Yoda laika Crunchyroll ratings Extras TV One Disney streaming service reviews high school children's TV japan National Geographic television 2017 superhero Christmas Cosplay godzilla The Walking Dead Amazon Prime true crime golden globes travel Elton John The Purge saw Apple 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards ABC Signature stop motion Film Bravo Epix sports deadpool know your critic Paramount Network Hallmark Christmas movies canceled TV shows Broadway quibi comic Paramount 007 tv talk BET Awards GLAAD miniseries war Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt breaking bad Black History Month IFC Emmys History Black Mirror 24 frames Avengers 2016 Fantasy Paramount Plus 20th Century Fox Winners Sneak Peek Calendar Pop justice league Emmy Nominations spy thriller basketball new york comic books Tubi Oscars WGN zombies kaiju razzies historical drama directors SDCC richard e. Grant worst movies harry potter Exclusive Video composers 2020 Brie Larson Netflix fresh ABC Family adaptation aliens rotten politics Cannes target Mudbound what to watch Grammys Sundance TV Red Carpet DGA NYCC based on movie doctor who australia YouTube Premium classics marvel cinematic universe NBA Comic Book Superheroe PBS MTV DC streaming service blockbuster GoT Freeform Sundance films Set visit BET boxing hispanic X-Men Walt Disney Pictures San Diego Comic-Con aapi Creative Arts Emmys CBS All Access finale Amazon Studios diversity universal monsters strong female leads golden globe awards casting supernatural Mary Poppins Returns USA Network See It Skip It crossover BAFTA fast and furious APB crime thriller HBO Max venice video BBC lord of the rings Pride Month LGBTQ best animated south america documentaries comiccon science fiction asian-american Character Guide Rock Marvel Television versus Trailer Tumblr serial killer dogs sitcom Comics on TV technology A&E Lucasfilm child's play GIFs Star Trek suspense Universal TCA Musical Rocky christmas movies dceu Disney Channel book theme song spanish language Drama Masterpiece Marvel Studios all-time Pixar Esquire Best and Worst Toys FX spanish nbcuniversal Awards USA international Music Endgame TIFF AMC Dark Horse Comics cinemax halloween El Rey Opinion CBS monster movies toronto james bond popular SXSW Crackle toy story werewolf hollywood Women's History Month Starz video on demand 21st Century Fox ABC nature Certified Fresh BBC One Classic Film medical drama Reality Food Network OWN cancelled TV shows Lifetime CNN emmy awards concert Countdown Lifetime Christmas movies Turner WarnerMedia screen actors guild superman HBO TV movies japanese green book Action Infographic Nickelodeon franchise NBC Amazon biography Tarantino 99% Thanksgiving worst DirecTV Nat Geo TCA Winter 2020 American Society of Cinematographers TruTV Heroines scary movies batman Marathons unscripted Hallmark CW Seed 90s TCA 2017 Super Bowl new star wars movies Hear Us Out TNT YA Chernobyl Martial Arts Alien jurassic park DC Universe Mary poppins Acorn TV blockbusters YouTube Red Fox Searchlight TV renewals Comedy Central parents VICE Sci-Fi binge Polls and Games Lionsgate streaming movies Spike pirates of the caribbean dramedy latino VH1 Horror facebook anime Vudu cats IFC Films sag awards documentary Schedule TCA Awards trailers canceled Mystery Ghostbusters criterion elevated horror Family Song of Ice and Fire news A24 teaser witnail independent Sundance Now stoner Disney Plus rom-coms Rocketman The Arrangement Podcast Television Critics Association psycho festival Pacific Islander Premiere Dates satire nfl Holiday Tokyo Olympics 72 Emmy Awards comedies Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Summer DC Comics TV Land cooking telelvision indiana jones period drama space Academy Awards Cartoon Network remakes SundanceTV cops Hulu Rom-Com women jamie lee curtis Netflix Christmas movies PaleyFest Musicals zero dark thirty cancelled TV series FOX stand-up comedy adventure Watching Series thriller spain FX on Hulu Arrowverse slashers police drama Image Comics Captain marvel Shudder joker CMT TV Country docudrama boxoffice 45 wonder woman movies discovery Writers Guild of America Awards Tour reboot Shondaland Spectrum Originals