RECAP: Hitman

Hitman (2007): Xavier Gens

Video game movies were a hot item in the Aughts. Hitman sought to turn a fun, stylish action game into a movie with those same modifiers. Did it succeed? Read on.

ONE SENTENCE PLOT SUMMARY: An unnamed hitman with a barcode tattooed on his scalp navigates a murky Russian political scandal that threatens to end his life and that of a woman caught in it. 

Hero (3/10)

Born and raised in a clean, metallic facility, a group of bald boys trains for years in the assassin arts. The boys didn’t receive names, only numbers, and barcodes tattooed to their permanently bald scalps. One of those agents, numbered 47 (Timothy Olyphant), later finds himself the subject of a worldwide investigation.

Agent 47 opens the film inside the London home of his adversary, an Interpol agent named Mike (Dougray Scott). Agent 47 asks the agent one question, “How does a good man decide when to kill?” Great question, one that this film won’t answer.

Let’s visit the past. Agent 47 works for The Organization, a group so sinister it doesn’t officially exist, yet it has connections with every government on Earth, and its only job is the raising and training of killers. Agent 47’s next job takes him to St. Petersburg, former imperial capital of Russia, where he’s instructed to murder the Russian president, a man named Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen), and publicly.

Agent 47 had a much different plan for killing Belicoff, but he accepts the job anyway. The next day, we find him standing on a high floor of an unfinished tower, four kilometers from the president. Agent 47 shoots a guards to clear a path, and then shoots the president, gobs of his blood covering bystanders. Piece of cake. On to the next operation.

Plans unravel when Agent 47 sees the Belicoff alive on TV the next day. Not possible. We saw the blood spray; so did he. Agent 47 takes a call from his contact “Diana” at The Organization, and realizes he’s got a mystery to unravel. He’s also ordered to kill a witness to his alleged failed hit, a woman with a face tattoo named Nika (Olga Kurylenko).

Agent 47 finds himself the target of his employing organization, and he drags Nika through and out of Russia, trying to protect her and extract information from her.

Much of the second act features the two fugitives interacting. First, Agent 47 kidnaps Nika and throws her in the trunk, ostensibly to “protect” her. She rides with a dead body, so finds it hard to trust his motives.

Agent 47 avoids hired brethren from killing him and uses brutal means of drawing out the men behind this conspiracy. Dozens of men die–and it’s only ever men–so Agent 47 can survive. He interrogates other hitmen by shooting them in their extremities, and he murders people to antagonize others. Guilt by association equals death in Hitman‘s world.

Agent 47 shows incredible skill above and beyond his colleagues. In St. Petersburg he kills three other fellow assassins by himself, this after fooling another into acting as bait for the police that were following Agent 47. Complicated stuff.

Any good assassin must have an escape plan, and Agent 47 shows his early. He hides guns in an ice box, pours glass marbles outside his hotel door, attaches tripwire and a grenade to his room door, and ties rope to the outside balcony. We watch this set up early in the film, and you better believe he uses it later.

His gun skills go without saying. As Mike, one of Interpol’s best cops says, “My boy doesn’t miss.”

Olyphant is a fine actor that’s not right for the part. His face charms and intimidates at once, but he’s playing a character with a barcode tattooed to his head. I can’t believe these assassins have any personality. I would expect them to move silently through the world, and would never tell a soon-to-be-victim to “hold up,” as Agent 47 does before he massacres a room full of arms dealers.

Creepy tattoo that the assassins must leave uncovered. I didn’t understand this, as these tattoos are as recognizable as could be.

Based on the video game of the same name, Hitman finds solid use of its protagonist’s aesthetic. Bald, black suit, and red tie, Agent 47 slips through the world of humans like a demon, Olyphant’s expert eye game enhancing this trait. Recall Agent 47 sitting in Udre Belicoff’s Istanbul lair. Leopard prints, purple silks, and gold bands surround the calm, black-clad murder. The image frightens.

Villain (3/10)

Agent 47 assassinates the president of Russia in an early scene. The next day, a man claiming to be the same president and matching his features, shows up on TV. ‘Twas merely a flesh wound, he states.

President Belicoff. Actually, fake President Belicoff.

Agent 47 knows better, but little more. Who hired him to do the hit? Some Russian hardliners were sad when the real President Belicoff chose a more moderate politcal stance, and they wanted him dead for it. They succeeded.

The fake Belicoff manipulates Agent 47’s life from then on. He orders his mistress, Nika, murdered, but Agent 47 refuses, instead driving her across the country.

A late scene inside a morgue offers Belicoff the chance to explain his guilt. Speaking to the head of the Secret Police, Belicoff mentions that he had a teflon frame screwed to his skull to facilitate a face change procedure. All the ouches. I wonder, how much money would you demand to undergo such a procedure? And to be president of Russia, a volitile and demanding job? Would $10 million cut it? I wouldn’t consider doing do for less than $100 million.

The fake Belicoff meets an ignomious end in a St. Petersburg cathedral. Agent 47, done with him, shoots him. That’s an unglamorous ending for the primary villain.

Action/Effects (3/10)

For a movie based on a video game and titled HitmanHitman seems light on action sequences. A terrific fight scene occurs in a St. Petersburg train station that’s detailed later. Here I’ll discuss the big shootout in Istanbul.

With Russian law hot on his tail, Agent 47 leaves Russia, dragging Nika with him. He seeks the brother of the Russian president he murdered, an arms dealer and overall lowlife named Udre Belicoff (Henry Ian Cusick). To reach Udre Agent 47 impersonates another arms dealer, and by impersonate I mean he killed him and his security retinue after a nice meal and stole a briefcase stuffed with dollars.

Agent 47 enters Udre’s lounge and finds a den of thieves and drugs and guns and girls. Typical nouveau riche, always flaunting easy money. Escorts are wearing face metal someone stole from the 300 set. Some guys snort cocaine. “I was just going over a few of my lines with some of your competitors.” Udre laughs. No one else laughs. That was a good coke joke! C’mon!

It doesn’t take long for one of Udre’s men, and not Udre, to discover Agent 47 is an impostor. Udre makes a big show of it. He lifts a few of the guns lying on the bottom-lit table, naming and describing them and pointing them at a smirking Agent 47. Udre’s cronies appear nervous.

Udre grabs a pistol, loads it, and jabs the barrel into the right eye of one of the escorts, who cries under his grip. Agent 47 speaks, claiming that a weapon he’s inspected is a Chinese copy of the real thing. Agent 47 sits still and calmly accuses Udre of selling cheap copies of weapons, and that he’s so intoxicated that couldn’t even kill that woman from point blank.

That makes Udre mad, and the Russian shoots at Agent 47, sitting 10 feet away, and misses by two feet, the bullet sending a plume of feathers from a pillow. Shame. Agent 47 responds by throwing the Chinese-made rifle and striking Udre in the face. Now it’s on.

Agent 47 arms the briefcase of money and throws it on the table. Despite being checked earlier, the case has an explosive device that went undiscovered. It blows mostly sparks, and sends dozens of US notes fluttering. That’s called making it rain.

Agent 47 finds two matching machine guns and arms them in his stylized, mirrored manner, and starts killing. Five or six men are shot first. The money continues to fall like snowflakes. Women scatter, and some men find cover behind the bar.

Most of this scene is shot in slow motion. Agent 47 rolls on the floor and pops up to shoot two more goons as Udre runs to find his (presumably) favorite weapons: massive automatic rifles mounted on bipods. Udre is not a man for restraint. Why use one tactically precise weapon when presented with two uncontrollable ones? Agent 47 kills more men, one of whom splays on the table covered in cash and guns.

Doing his best Rambo, Udre fires on Agent 47, who takes refuge behind a column. Plaster, marble, and glass fly, but Agent 47 is unharmed. Eyes closed, he gathers his strength. He lets the gun lead from his hiding spot and shoots two more men. Udre sprays bullets everywhere, forcing Agent 47 to leap behind another of the lounge’s bars, where he finds another rifle and a grenade. Agent 47 pops up and throws that grenade at the other bar, exploding it and the guy below in a huge fireball. Debris fills the screen.

All the women, it seems, survive the attack. Udre stumbles, covered in blood, moaning. Agent 47 is fine. He approaches Udre, who asks, “What do you want me to do?” Agent 47 says, “Just this,” and kills him.

Good scene. It recalls the Hobbes line from Leviathan: nasty, brutish, and short. Most scenes in Hitman adhere to this pattern. Agent 47 is the world’s most effective killer, so he won’t be bogged down by another’s skill, only their numbers.

Sidekicks (2/8)

Agent 47 has one friend in this crazy world, and she’s the woman locked in his trunk. Give him a break though, he was raised in an assassin farm and fails at small talk. Locking away friends is easier.

Nika is the mistress of President Belicoff, and she nearly dies for it. Agent 47 is dispatched to kill her after he kills her lover, but he doesn’t do it. Nevertheless, for some time, in Agent 47’s rough care, she considers death. “It is a strange thing to wish to die,” she says.

The fiery Russian takes time to warm to Agent 47, first finding him a threat and later an enigma. While they ride together (in the front seats) through the Turkish or Russian countryside, Agent 47 claims he has a gag in a suitcase, all the better to keep quiet talkative girls. That’s his idea of flirting. Nika is into it, countering, “You think we have time for foreplay?” This exchange comes after she chafes at Agent 47’s weirdness, saying, “You don’t want to fuck me, and you don’t want to kill me.”

Too bad these two met under difficult circumstances. The chief bit of characterization Nika gets comes as she flips through a magazine. Stopping on a page showing a vineyard, she explains her lifelong dream to own one. At the end of the movie, we see that Agent 47 has made her wish come true.

Kurylenko plays the angry, frightened mistress with vigor and passion. To match with a trained assassin, one must use one’s best skills, and Nika oozes sexuality because it’s her best chance to control men.

Also, it’s a cliche that Hitman‘s only female character about male assassins and male cops  is a prostitute. At a fancy dinner she tests Agent 47’s recall, asking him what color underwear she’s wearing. He responds, correctly, that she wears no underwear.

Henchmen (4/8)

Interpol agent Mike Whittier spends three years chasing Agent 47 around the world while his colleagues think the assassin a ghost, only to find Agent 47 waiting for him in his home on a rainy night in London.

Mike on the right, his partner Jenkins on the left.

Mike follows Agent 47 using pins on a map to trace the hundreds of Agent 47’s kills. The Belicoff assassination “attempt” brings Mike against Agent 47 and the Russian Secret Police.

Agent Mike is a fine employee, not afraid of a possible prison term in Russia. The Secret Police do not scare him, nor does the Russian army. When either group tries to throw him off the case, he barks words like “my boy” and “jurisdiction” as if such phrases held meaning in Russia. He tells the chief of the Secret Police, “How about go fuck yourself?” while simultaneously planting a bug on him. Gutsy.

Mike claims he knows Agent 47 “better than anyone else,” and that thinking leads him to nearly capture Agent 47 in a St. Petersburg train station, correctly guessing that he would ride a train further into Russian rather than flee the nation.

Agent 47 captures Mike’s #2 man in the station, and Mike heroically offers himself as a hostage instead. Agent 47 shoots him in the (bulletproof-vest-covered) chest, and is about to kill him until Nika speaks against it. “She saved your life,” Agent 47 says.

In the end, Mike captures his man, but only, he discovers moments later, because Agent 47 wanted him to. The assassin shows up at Mike’s flat to tell him to back off before fleeing into the night. Will Mike back off his manhunt? We don’t find out, but I guess he won’t.

Stunts (3/6)

“I would die with a little dignity,” Agent 47 says. He’s facing down three fellow bald assassins, and he convinces them to drop their guns in favor of short swords.

We have four assassins and eight swords, all crossed in the center of the circle on board an empty train car at a St. Petersburg train station. It’s about to be a three-on-one fight to the death.

Agent 47 attacks first and somehow doesn’t die in a half-second. He kicks two guys in the chest to reduce his opponents to one, forcing them to get in line rather than surround him.

The assassins start fighting each other to be the one to kill Agent 47, which works to the latter’s advantage, of course. One guy leaps onto Agent 47’s back and drags him to the car’s end. Agent 47 stabs both swords into the wall behind him (but not into his opponent) and elbows him in the face. He approaches another attacker, catches his low kick, and flips him upside-down into a wall. Agent 47 picks up a sword and stabs it into the guy’s ass.

Suddenly another assassin runs at him, and Agent 47 catches his leg and carries his body into a train seat. A sword discarded on the floor provides Agent 47 with a death to add to his 100+ count.

The elbow-to-the-face guy has recovered and chokes Agent 47. They exchange blows, and Agent 47 starts to walk away. You don’t walk away from The Organization’s killers. The other guy takes the two swords plunged in the wall and runs, but Agent 47 double kicks him through the car door with a yelp.

Now they sword fight outside. The editing was very poor here, including a shot that flips the fighters onto different sides of the screen, a huge no-no. Often the actors would fight and the camera would cut to another angle for one move before returning to the standard position. Too bad because the footwork and sword play was great.

The combatants lose their swords and fist fight under the train car. There’s some great metal BONGS and screams of pain. Agent 47 removes his opponent’s belt from his pants and uses it to choke him to death. He cleans up by putting all the bodies and weapons into a crate.

The train scene was Hitman‘s best. Terrific choreography punctuated bursts of action and fine sound. The cuts carried me from the scene, however.

Climax (1/6)

The chief of the Secret Police, chained to a bathtub, orders the shooting of the fake President Belicoff. His sniper basically shrugs his shoulders. Shoot the president of our country?Whatever you say boss. In a St. Petersburg cathedral, the sniper needs three bullets to break the glass protecting Belicoff, and when it shatters the people in the cathedral burst into action.

The Secret Police chief will be electrocuted if he doesn’t order his president shot.

The military orders the civilians gassed to protect them as Belicoff’s guards hustle him upstairs. Mike escapes with the army leader.

Upstairs, a gas-masked troop guns down all the president’s men, leaving the fake president alive. Agent 47 removes his mask, so we’ll be sure it’s him, and drags the imposter through the hall, killing more guards as they arrive, some with single head shots and some with multiple rounds to the torso. Agent 47 shoots open a door and enters.

I don’t believe elite Russian troops wear this gear. They look demonic.

Mike figures out that he was set up “from the very beginning.” The symbol and psalm on the hefty key Agent 47 left behind match an inscription on the plinth of the cathedral. Agent 47 knew where Udre’s funeral would be held.

Inside, Agent 47 enters another room and is immediately attacked by another hitman. The habit-wearing assassin attacks Agent 47 with a spear. Agent 47 breaks the spear head, slams his opponent on the table, and kicks him off. The two slap at each other in a choppy sequence. Agent 47 bashes the other’s head into a column and stomps his face to a pulp. Only two people remain in the archbishop’s chamber.

“Seems I underestimated you,” the fake Belicoff says. Agent 47 responds, “Consistently.” Belicoff begs for his life by offering Agent 47 his. The fake president ordered the hit on the real president, after all, so he can call off the dogs chasing Agent 47. Some of them, anyway. Agent 47 doesn’t care. He shoots the imposter dead.

The army leader outside calls in a gunship. That’s insane. An attack helicopter hovers outside the archbishop’s tower of the most important church in the city and unloads hundreds of rounds into it. I know little about Russian politics, but I can’t believe a Russian army leader would shoot a cathedral to catch a criminal. SMDH.

Agent 47 takes cover under a thick wooden table to survive the onslaught, after which the helicopter flies away like a pesky bird harassing prey. The body of the fake Belicoff, now unquestionably dead, Agent 47 throws aside.

This helicopter will destroy the chamber of the Archbishop of St. Petersburg. The people of Russia would never allow this.

Mike enters the cathedral to find the archbishop’s quarters, where the enormous key will fit. He opens the door moments before the Russians were to blow it. Interpol has jurisdiction in the case, and Mike uses it to arrest Agent 47, who sits in the archbishop’s chair.

As the convoy drives away Mike asks Agent 47 if he would act differently, knowing how it ends. Agent 47, with a knowing glance, looks his arresting officer in the car’s mirror and says, “Knowing how this ends, definitely.” Suddenly, and who saw this coming, black cars surround Mike’s convoy and a dozen armed men step out. They force Mike from the vehicle. It’s Agent Smith from the CIA, the guy who helped Agent 47 locate Udre, and he’s only here to allow Agent 47 time to escape.

Now we return to the beginning, with Agent 47 sitting in Mike’s London house. Agent 47 reveals the body of a dead assassin. This is the man Mike’s been chasing, Agent 47 strongly hints. Ballistics will confirm Mike shot the intruder with his gun. Agent 47 walks into the rainy night. “Hope I never see you again.”

The character we do see again is Nika, who walks out of a building back home and opens a folder with a photo of that vineyard she always dreamed of. Ain’t that sweet?

Jokes (0/4)

That cocaine joke Udre tells is funny, though no one else laughs, not even the men and women in his employ. That’s sad that people you pay won’t even laugh at your jokes, and says plenty about this humorless film.

Setting (0/4)

St. Petersburg is the canvas on which our assassin paints his murder masterpieces. Though it’s hard to tell what landmarks the city has, the Russian flags waving everywhere help ground the city. That’s a good filmmaker trick: when in doubt, throw flags in there. Jason Bourne was the most recent example of this I can recall, in which protesters carrying Greek flags surrounded early action scenes.

Agent 47 enjoys fine hotel rooms and restaurants, so it’s nice to see such sleek venues in a movie about gruesome murder and political intrigue. Udre’s Turkish lounge provides the silky textures and neon lighting needed to let the blood sheen pop.

Commentary (0/2)

Hitman struggles to flit between political thriller and police manhunt. That’s a problem. This movie could have excelled as slow burn political thriller in which Agent 47 was the villain, a killer of demonic scale. Envision plenty of dark rooms with muzzle flashes the only illumination.

Or Hitman could have succeeded as a cat-and-mouse chase of Agent 47, going rogue to expose The Organization, against dozens of colleagues/competitors.

The movie is neither, placing Agent 47 in a nebulous region between hero and villain, and not an anti-hero. That’s a problem that hurts it.

Offensiveness (-1/-2)

Assassin movies often feature a lone female character who is in danger and in far over her head. Hitman is no exception. Agent 47, after Nika protests being thrown into his car’s trunk again, orders her to stop being “dramatic.” Head slap.

Others

  • (-3) Some of the worst dialogue dubbing I’ve heard. I wondered if they had a sound crew in some locations.
  • Hitman features the strangest product placement in memory. Nika flips through a magazine Agent 47 bought and asks him why he bought it. He likes the ads. That alone is strange. She turns to an ad for Rimowa luggage and asks why he uses their hard case suitcases. The case holds his sniper rifle. Kids, need a sniper-rifle-sized suitcase? Buy Rimowa!
  • Many, many Russian characters speak English. An English speaker myself, I don’t mind this. Makes movie watching easier. When Russian characters speak to each other in English, I find that too strange.
  • (-1) A subtitle places Agent 47 driving in Turkey at the Russian border. Turkey does not border Russia.

Summary (14/68): 21%

Grossing $39 million in the US, Hitman somehow warranted a sequel made nearly a decade later. Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil all became video game and movie franchises, so perhaps we should not feel surprised.

Hitman didn’t win any awards, and it didn’t improve Amero-Russian relations, but it did help cement Timothy Olyphant as a scary-looking dude. That’s one claim that will stand the test of time.

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