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Hitman (2007) Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 July 2008
ImageIn an undisclosed Eastern bloc country, a monk-like society raises selected children from birth, training them to become elite assassins.  These professional hitmen are raised as automatons without emotion, living only to fulfill their missions.  One of their hitmen, agent 47 (Timothy Olyphant), is given an assignment to assassinate the moderate Russian president, Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen).  47 carries off the assignment with precision and skill, but when he returns to his hotel, he finds out via his laptop (inconspicuously monogrammed with the insignia of the secret assassination society) the client claims the assignment wasn’t completed.  Agent 47 finds himself hunted by the Russian police, Interpol, as well as assassins from his own organization hired by the client to silence him.    After abducting Belicoff’s mistress, Nika (Olga Kurylenko), agent 47 realizes that the group that hired him to kill Belicoff has replaced the murdered president with a double, whom they can use as a puppet to control the government.  At the same time, Interpol agent, Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), is hot on 47’s trail.  Nika was sold to Belicoff for $300 and was abused by him, and is also targeted for death, as she could reveal the switcheroo.  It should also be said that about three hundred other people could reveal the switch, as Belicoff’s head was blown off while in the middle of an outdoor crowd.  The cold and uncaring 47 drags Nika along, using her information to track down the conspirators, (or associates of Belicoff, for no conceivable reason) while protecting her from the assassin’s bullet.

“Hitman” is based on the first-person shooter video game of the same name and adds to the growing junkheap of lousy films made from videogames.  It’s a dull, prolonged exercise with an impenetrable and uninteresting lead character, a contrived, overly convoluted plot and an overabundance of hyperactive, slow motion, John Woo-wannabe gunplay.  The “story” is as episodic and functional as a videogame, with each badass character given a mission to undertake, leading to a plethora of undeveloped baddies to jump out of corners to shoot at him.  Olyphant, who was terrific in “Deadwood” and other works, is given nothing to play here, just cold efficiency and the physicality of the action sequences.  The majority of the running time is made up of repetitive scenes where 47 shoots a number of faceless soldiers, cops, or assassins, while remaining unscathed. Having a stone-cold assassin as a character isn’t a problem, but it doesn’t work here because 47 is the lead role, and one simply isn’t given enough of a character to identify with, understand, or be interested in.  Characters like Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men” or the titular character in “The Terminator” work because they are not the central characters, and their impenetrability makes for a greater level of tension, since our protagonists have to somehow survive the intense pursuit of this killing machine.  Even Chigurh has a code he obeys and is subject to the randomness of fate, but 47’s code is so simplistic and robotic that the filmmakers fail to create a believable person.  The script tries to make parallels between the damaged Nika and 47, but they’re not developed enough to work as a dramatic arc for the character, although the filmmaker’s clearly hope that it does.  As a result, Dougray Scott’s Interpol agent becomes the audience surrogate by default.  It’s a stock character, but Scott is fine in the role, and it’s nice to hear his natural Scottish accent.

The storyline has a surplus of implausible events, some of which are introduced to match the videogame’s visuals (which it does replicate, quite closely), others are simply evidence of poor screenwriting or the presumption that the audience is so stupid that any crazy action sequence will do.  The character iconography may work in a videogame, but the idea of an elite secret society of assassins, that goes around with an attention-grabbing bar code tattooed on the back of their shaved heads, is extremely stupid.  Personally, if someone was looking to hire a hitman, I doubt they would choose the organization so secret they place their crest on the back of their operative’s laptops, communicate with them in the middle of an airport, or make them all dress and look identical. I can picture the conversation now, “This is Interpol.  We just apprehended three men with shaved heads and barcodes on them, carrying sniper rifles on the outskirts of the motorcade.”  “Damn, they outsmarted us again, sir.  I don’t know how they’re on to us.”

While the film is a dud, the Blu-ray release is technically spectacular.  The 1080p image is consistently crisp and stable, with wide angle shots and close-ups conveying a precise level of fine detail.  The added stability gives the slow motion sequences greater areas of visual interest, as more of the scenery is in sharp focus while the characters do their gunplay calisthenics.  The color palette is cool and somewhat blue-white in exterior sequences, with interiors appearing warmer and more golden, in an artificial, digital intermediate, TV commercial style.  While the lion’s share of the transfer is precise and detailed, facial information in the opening scene seems a bit lacking, compared with the rest of the film.  This may be due to the low light level used in the scene, which may have reduced the amount of detail that was picked up by the 35mm film, or a grain removal tool has stripped away the intense grain from the scene and as a result, the facial details, as well.  Regardless, it’s a small caveat on what otherwise is an exemplary disc.

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio track is stunning, even when monitoring the DTS core, as I did here.  It’s a richly produced replication of an extremely aggressive sound effects mix.  Surround usage is bold, as is the LFE channel, which is used frequently and with great intensity.  It’s an exciting track that conveys a great level of excitement and power.

Most of the bonus features are presented in 1080p, increasing the level of interest in the talking-heads interview segments.  Some of the source material was shot in standard definition, but the added stability makes the rest more watchable.  Deleted scenes are standard definition, in 4x3 letterboxed format, and feature an incomplete sound mix.  There’s nothing of much interest here, though an alternate ending which kills one character who otherwise lives, may be of interest.  The bloopers are in standard definition and are sourced from a rough editing tape, complete with timecode in 4x3 letterboxed format.  “Digital Hits” is a featurette on the game itself, which seems more interesting than the film.  “Instruments of Destruction” is a series of brief pieces that explain what the different guns are.  “Setting the Score” is a short, behind-the-scenes look at creating the music score, and “In the Crosshairs” is a 20 minute featurette on the making of the movie, featuring barely intelligible comments by director for hire Xavier Gens.  The HD theatrical trailer is included.  Also included, is an extra disc with a digital copy of the film to download to your iPhone, PDA or similar B.S. device.  With the price of Fox Blu-ray discs already too high for the marketplace to bear, maybe Fox should skimp on stupid crap like an extra useless disc of the film for users of today’s modern hula hoop equivalent… Because, you know, life isn’t miserable enough without having the dubious privilege of watching terrible films on a 2-inch by 1-1/2 inch device.  A standard def disc would be more worthwhile for those BD fence-sitters.

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