Review: Hitman: Agent 47

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DIR: Aleksander Bach  • WRI: Skip Woods, Michael Finch • PRO: Adrian Askarieh, Charles Gordon, Alex Young • DOP: Óttar Guðnason • ED: Nicolas De Toth • DES: Sebastian T. Krawinkel • MUS: Marco Beltrami • CAST: Rupert Friend, Zachary Quinto, Ciarán Hinds

 

If the Bourne films and the Terminator films had some kind of weird progeny, Hitman: Agent 47 would very likely be the result. However, in taking plot elements but none of the visual or multi-layered inspiration from the franchises, we end up with a rather unoriginal action flick that entertains but fails to inspire.

Continuing the relatively recent trend of adapting video games for film, Hitman follows a ruthless master assassin mysteriously named 47 who is looking for the founder of the genetically-engineered agent program of which he is a product. As part of his mission, he must locate Katia van Dees, a young woman who is searching for connections to her own past as she cannot remember who she is or where she comes from. Katia learns from a member of the CIA, John Smith, that Agent 47 is out for her life, but she soon discovers that 47 may actually be the key to her past. All three soon end up on a chase that brings them across the globe.

Star of the titular role, Rupert Friend’s previous performances have included charming gentlemen in costume dramas like The Young Victoria (2009) and Pride and Prejudice (2005), though he is probably best-known for his role as Quinn, a professional assassin in Showtime series Homeland (2011- ). It was this role that led director Aleksander Bach to cast Friend, and the similarities between Quinn and Agent 47 are utilised effectively. Friend is not only a satisfying lead but an exemplary one, and stands on his own feet in what is an already saturated market of action hero actors. The character of 47 is ruthless and delightfully suave. Zachary Quinto (Spock in the Star Trek reboot) also proves to be a welcome addition to the cast in the role of John Smith while Irish actor Ciarán Hinds gives another talented performance, so that sustenance is somewhat added to the otherwise predictable and uninspired plot. While she does her best with an underwritten, clichéd role – ‘I don’t know who I am… now I do know who I am, and someone is going to pay!’ – Hannah Ware’s Katia is dull and unconvincing as an action heroine.

The sets are sleek and the booming soundtrack evokes high-octane energy. With its snazzy suits, expensive cars and blood splattering the screen, everything about this movie indicates its acute attempts to be considered ‘cool’ by its audience. To give credit where it is due, perhaps Polish director Bach simply wanted to have fun for his debut feature. After all, the film gives just what the doctor ordered – car chases, explosions, bloody assassinations, and hand-to-hand combat that is well-choreographed (which may be owed to the stunts and action crew coming from 87-11 Action Design, whose work has featured in Jurassic World, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and John Wick ). However, with this year’s action movie offerings thus far including the perfectly-paced, brilliantly self-aware John Wick as well as the blood-pumping, visually-arresting Mad Max: Fury Road, Hitman simply cannot compete with its generic predecessors. Its ending seems to promise a sequel, but we hope it will be given a miss.

Deirdre Molumby

15A (See IFCO for details)
96 minutes

Hitman: Agent 47 is released 28th August 2015

Hitman: Agent 47  – Official Website

 

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Cinema Review: Starred Up

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DIR: David Mackenzie • WRI: Jonathan Asser • PRO: Gillian Berrie • DOP: Michael McDonough • ED: Nick Emerson, Jake Roberts • DES: Tom McCullagh • CAST: Rupert Friend, Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Sam Spruell

As perverse a statement as it may be to make about the popular viewing public-at-large it is at this point unquestionable that the prison movie is a staple of the coming-of-age genre. The institutionalized frame has seen more boys become men (or indeed men become men) than that of the average upper middle-class boarding school and so, like trips to the old West or West London gangster locales, there is weighty canon of quality work to stand tall against, for as cynicism comes like steps to the seasoned cinema goer, and I have been dying to pile more accolades on 2008’s magnificently forgotten The Escapist, if only at the outright denouncement of another picture. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, this reviewer may have to wait for Danny Dyer’s next outing behind bars because David MacKenzie’s Starred Up delivers on almost all counts.

The opening 20 minutes of one’s standard prison outing dilly-dally with time by telling us things we know already from other prison films. Starred Up grabbed my attention almost immediately with a dazzling sequence in which Jack O’Connell’s Eric strips down his cell, melting a razor into the end of his toothbrush and fashioning a stash out of his light-strip in less than 90 seconds. This, as well as many a violent outburst in the film’s opening act , establish Eric as a seasoned con who may rely on experience and expertise during his interim, which, as we consider his age, concocts a new statement in its own right.

The nature of Eric brings one instantly to mind of early Alan Clarke productions, in particular Scum and Made in Britain, with one iconic scene from Scum being quite obliquely referenced midway through. However, the main ripples from Clarke’s features are seen thematically; for instance, as Eric awaits guards in his cell with a shank in either hand, and a greased up stomach to more easily evade capture, one cannot help see a disillusioned man whose only interaction with authority has thought him to resist it and thus he has evolved.

Where the film gauges more interest and earns its stripes as a coming-of-age picture are with the dynamics between Eric and his would-be authority figures, namely Rupert Friend’s amiable psychoanalyst Oliver, Sian Breckin’s cruel warden and Ben Medelsohn on typical terrifying form as head-con Neville who also transpires to be Eric’s estranged father. As the three jostle for his rehabilitation, subjugation and submission, respectively, the film’s indictment of institutionalisation as counterproductively marginalising becomes its centrepiece and the symbolic standoff of the third acts takes a potentially typical conclusion and makes it interesting.

I have mentioned Ben Mendelsohn as I always must regarding anything he’s appeared in since 2010’s superb Animal Kingdom but truthfully (and thankfully) the most intriguing, energetic acting on show here comes from O’Connell, whose growing legion of fans will only grow with this picture. He is the bustling, brawny centrepiece of this often grim yet somehow uplifting slice of Brit-grit, of which I know nothing comparable to in recent years, except maybe 2009’s superb A Prophet. With Starred Up, MacKenzie and O’Connell have both upped their games so significantly that I would be surprised, nay, disappointed to not see them work together again.

 

Donnchadh Tiernan

16 (See IFCO for details)
105 mins

Starred Up is released on 21st March 2014

Starred Up – Official Website

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