Monday, December 03, 2007

Why “Hitman” is No “No Country For Old Men”?: The Anatomy of What Makes Something a Real Film

Walking out of seeing Hitman on Thanksgiving night, the usual thoughts of anger and frustration came over me when I see a movie that could have been so much better. I'd say 70% of movies are doomed from the start, 10% just misfire completely, 10% are truly well made all around, .005 percent are heavenly experiences of film enjoyment that make you actually want to go to the movies and then, there are movies like Hitman. Some would ask, what do you expect from a a movie based on a video game (Mario Brothers, Doom, or Resident Evil anyone?). People forget games these days are basically like movies where you take over the main character. They are engrossing experiences that have a built in audience. They have full on interludes and complex stories, that are usually a bit over the top that feed into the game play experience, making you get into character and become fully engrossed in this new world.

Hitman is the story of a top shelf trained killer, who gets cut loose by his top secret non-affiliated agency of bald headed bar coded killers. This sounds very familiar. The Bourne series is basically the same plot line. But what the Bourne series gets right is the perfect mix of ruthless killing, intricate yet believable story and a good actor in Matt Damon that really captures the title role. Hitman had all those parts somewhere inside of it but the main actor (Timothy Olyphant of Live Free or Die Hard) falls mostly flat especially when he opens his mouth. During the opening credits, we get a flimsy formulaic back-story that is completely lost as a grainy montage and never reverted back for practically the whole film. Explaining the character is a robotic trained killer who lives for the kill doesn't to be proper justification for the aimless nature of this film.

It uses the flashback plot mechanism of telling the story right from the start, where the the Hitmas confronts his Interpol pursuer, and then does a "let's start from the beginning" which leads to a recent history of what the Hitman has gone through. From then on it's just chase scenes, assassination plots interspersed with a malformed relationship with the extremely attractive Russian lady of the night. To be honest, I can't remember her name, but she was a mildly engaging character that tried to keep the film interesting.

When the Hitman isn't killing anybody the movie is more than just dull. It's overwrought, slow and awkward. Olyphant is alright at times and has some redeeming moments but the conversations are ludicrous and the film falls into the truly preposterous category once he becomes the hunted.

I went to see Hitman because I tend to enjoy movies about killers, spies, and superhuman assasins. The James Bond movies, the Bourne movies, I was even a big proponent of Marky Mark's Shooter
but Hitman didn't do it for me. The moment it falls out of reality is when the Hitman is the always necessary public place scene trying to escape on some mode of public transportation. He is in the train station, there are 50 people looking for him for 5 minutes but he sticks out like a fucking sore thumb and these "highly trained" intelligence people and officer can't see a tall pale white bald headed guy with a bar code tattooed on his skull. It's completely ridiculous. I know it's the characters trademark but just for a while couldn't he get a knit cap and put it over his head. It wouldn't be out of place since they are in the middle of Russia. And he also seems to be walking at a glacial pace at all times, there is no way I wouldn't have even seen him in the crowd, the crowd wasn't that big. At that point, the movie really lost me.

The real harshness and animosity I felt towards Hitman probably stems from comparisons in my mind to the last Hitman related movie I saw which was earlier in the week and easily the best film I've seen all year, the already highly praised, and worthy critical darling No Country for Old Men.

No Country for Old Men has just about everything Hitman is missing. It has a real script from a pair of filmmaking geniuses /brothers in the Coens. No Country finds the brothers returning to their filmmaking roots of Blood Simple, a bloody Texas thriller, working from the source material of Cormac McCarthy's novel of the same title. No Country for Old Men has a freaky, fear inducing lead man in Javier Bardem, who, if all was right in the world, should be writing his Oscar speech as we speak with no questions asked. His sadistic Anton Chigurh is unshakable, ruthless, yet complicating and unbelievably fascinating.

The thing I most admire about the Coen Brothers is that nothing is a cheap trick with them. They trust in the intelligence of their audience. They may try to fool or mislead but there are always clues to the truth sparsely laid throughout the story. The basic plot of the film centers around a drug deal gone bad, that much like Hitman, is never really explained. Yet what occurs after that is the point of this story. A roving veteran stumbles on to the scene of this bloody drug deal finding a bag full of money which he takes. Anton is hired to recoup that money at all costs by his employer.

The rest of the film plays out like a two man psychologically examination of what drives men to what they do when pushed to extremes narrated and guided by Tommy Lee Jones as the local, wise yet aging Sheriff. The film takes the chase of Anton following Llewellyn through a complicated seedy journey through the border towns of Texas.

I don't want to give much away about the film because the surprises, the twists and turns, are the real glee of the film.

I don't know if this explained much but that is why No Country destroys Hitman on all levels. It has everything a film should be and Hitman has basically nothing. It has the excellent direction, the wonderful script, the exceptional performances, and the temperamental pacing to control and maintain the interest of its audience. Beyond that, No Country makes sense. Many will claim it doesn't but everything that happens has an explanation and it means something. One of these makes sense and is worthy of your time, the other is sadly not.

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