Assassins (1994): Breakdown by Kain424
On his way to retirement, a hitman is suddenly challenged by a deadly up and coming assassin.
[THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THEIR BADASSITUDE]
THE GOOD GUYS:
Sylvester Stallone is Robert Rath a.k.a. “Joseph”
Sly is pretty solid here, mostly because he has Banderas to play off. Still, we get another turn from Stallone as the strong, silent type with a hidden wit.
Julianne Moore is Electra a.k.a. “Anna”
Computer hacker and “ghost”, Moore manages to give enough presence and strength to an otherwise very limited role. Her fear and resistance stand out, making her the most human of the characters. I actually quite like her in this, and I rarely like Moore. I don’t think I’d like a single one of her characters again until Don Jon.
THE BAD GUY:
Antonio Banderas is Miguel Bain
The film’s MVP and blast of amazing. Banderas kills it here, as a hyper-intense, psychopath of a hitman who loves history as much as he loves the hunt.
[THE SEX AND VIOLENCE]
EXPLOITATION AND MISOGYNY:
Not really, unless you count that smooch shot from the original trailer, or that part where the undercover agents are pretending to make out.
MURDER BY NUMBERS: [ 19 people and a couple of peaches ]
Sly practically kills no one in this, something that was fairly common during his 90s stretch. It’s ok though, because Antonio picks up his slack, retiring 17 more.
Watch their kills HERE.
[THE BEST OF THE REST]
In one of the more resourceful moments of Robert Rath’s screentime, he rigs Electra’s apartment up to explode with some matchsticks and the oven’s gas line. Miguel barely survives by using an overturned table to brace himself as he’s blasted out the second story window.
Separated by bulletproof glass, Rath and Bain are forced to get to know one another knowing that if either one of them leave the cab they’re sharing, the other will shoot him down. When Rath turns away for a moment, Bain tries the to shoot through the glass. Laughing at Rath’s apparent displeasure of this breech of their momentary truce, Bain quips:
“I had to try! I mean, who knows? Maybe it wasn’t made in America!”
I’ve occasionally been accused of shitting on the Action films of the 1990s. I guess I just see them as too technology-dependent and soft. I like my Action to have a bit of gruffness and resourcefulness the action heroes of the 90s seemed to severely lack. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think well of plenty of 90s flicks. Assassins is one of those I quite like, actually. I think most people skip right by it, but it’s surprisingly good.
After the one-two punch of success Sylvester Stallone had with Cliffhanger and Demolition Man, suddenly our favorite underdog actor was on fire in Hollywood again. He could pick about any project with about any actors and almost any director. Unfortunately for Sly, the studios were still powerful enough to veto him on the director. When he wanted do get in on the sleazy sexy 90s thriller genre that had swept Hollywood following the success of Basic Instinct, Stallone was able to get Sharon Stone herself but not David Fincher. Fincher would achieve massive success, however, with his own thriller (Se7en), pummeling Assassins at the box office. Without Fincher, Stallone was still strong-armed into the project (which eventually became The Specialist), which had been considered one of the hottest scripts ever written, by trigger-happy producers. By most accounts, The Specialist was a troubled production, with Stallone reverting back to his prima donna attitude and fighting with the other creative forces on the set. This happened again with Judge Dredd, after the producers rejected Sly’s attempts to get The Coen brothers and later, his Cliffhanger director Renny Harlin, attached to the project.
Sly soldiered on, however, and grabbed onto another script. Having been cribbing from the Assassins script already in The Specialist, he decided he would just go ahead and make the thing. Assassins was written by Larry and Andy Wachowski, and Mel Gibson was originally interested in directing the film, with Sean Connery pitched as the lead. Gibson eventually went on to be far more successful with his epic, Braveheart, and passed on directing duties for Assassins to his friend and Lethal Weapon series director Richard Donner. Donner wanted the film toned down, less violent and more simplistic in plot. Even after filming, this necessitated many cuts and the excising of an entire love story subplot between the two main protagonists. And while I think the original script is quite good, I still enjoy Assassins a great deal.
As written by the Wachowskis, Assassins owes a great deal to the Charles Bronson classic, The Mechanic, and Jean-Pierre Melville’s Alain Delon hitman film Le samouraï. Stallone’s Robert Rath (heh, I see what you did there) is a lonely man, driven even lonelier out of the necessities of his occupation as a hitman. His only contact with another human being he isn’t about to kill comes in the form of terse back and forth responses on an internet relay chat on his laptop. In the original script, Rath pays an escort just to listen to him talk, something that should remind fans of Bronson’s Arthur Bishop as much as Delon’s Jef Costello. Assassins can make for great character studies. They are loners by their very nature, paranoid, and generally morally conflicted.
Unfortunately, Sylvester Stallone does not seize this opportunity with much vigor. This is a shame, because, as an actor, his best work comes out of being the outsider type. He works well as a man struggling with choice and consequence. Think Rocky Balboa, John Rambo, or Freddy Heflin. The Robert Rath of this film is basically interchangeable with Ray Quick from The Specialist or James Bonomo from Bullet To The Head. You don’t really remember these characters or their names because it’s Stallone being boring Stallone. It’s the worst kind of Stallone, really. It can work in the right circumstances, like in Cliffhanger or to some extent Demolition Man, but only if everything around Stallone is insane. We need something to cling to with Sly. It’s too bad they cut out a naked Rath doing Tai Chi in his room, but then again, they did that in The Specialist.
It sounds like I’m shitting on this movie already, but let me tell you about this film’s saving grace:
Antonio Banderas, like James Woods in The Specialist, sets this thing on fire. He has no reason to be as watchable as he is in this schlocky little thriller, and yet here he is. Glaring through his long 90s hair with his burning eyes, motormouthing, taunting, and showboating, Banderas is entrancing to watch. Hot off of the critical success of movies like The Mambo Kings and Philadelphia, Banderas feels like he’s ready to burst as a performer. Having already showed off his Action chops that summer in Robert Rodriguez’s impressive Desperado, it feels only natural to have him face off against one of the previous decade’s biggest Action stars. Thankfully, Banderas’s energy makes it seem only natural for Stallone to be playing it so straight. Antonio becomes the movie’s Joker (or… Bain?) to Sly’s Batman.
Whenever Stallone is interacting with Banderas, he comes to life and so does the movie. This is especially good because the movie itself is a rather generic form of your usual hitman movie. We get the seasoned assassin on his “last” job, but something goes wrong. Here, it’s that Banderas’s Miguel Bain intercepts Rath’s target right out from under his nose. When Rath attempts a second “last” job, Bain is there again. The twist here (if you can call it that), is Rath doesn’t “retire” his target this time. Instead he uses her to get the edge on his eager new opponent, and in the process forms a relationship.
Again, most of this relationship was lost on the cutting room floor (though you can still see Sylvester kissing Julianne Moore in the original trailer), but I think it still works. They come off as something of a platonic partnership, but there are hints of more still left in the movie. In fact, there’s a nice scene where Rath admits his feelings to her, only to find out he was just talking to himself.
But lets talk about the Action. This is an interesting movie in this category, because it’s not really about big bangs and lots of bodies. The Action here succeeds because it is rather masterfully built to a slow boil through tension and a sense of inevitable confrontation. We anticipate a duel between our primary forces, but Richard Donner wisely keeps our heroes apart. Even when they are first face to face, they are separated by a pane of bulletproof glass. And the guns are almost entirely set with silencers, giving us a fairly unique-sounding series of gunfights where our heroes fire continuously at one another with low-velocity .22 caliber silenced pistols. As such, we get several great stand-offs, tense as hell, with a gloriously fun turn from Antonio Banderas and a somewhat solid 90s outing from Sylvester Stallone.
There’s been a lot of griping about this film’s deviation from the Wachowski’s original script, but I can’t say I was honestly too impressed with the script in the first place. It definitely had a higher bodycount, with the Bain character shooting much of a restaurant full of people down for no real reason, but the film is largely true to what was on the page, minus several 80s video game and comic book references and plus a silly new twist at the end of the movie. The only thing I miss about the script, really, was a fun instance where Bain starts playing Tetris in the middle of a a gun battle. But what we have is a clever and tense little thriller. The direction is clear and competent (I mean, I have to belive things like having Banderas accidentally drop his gun in fron of an anti-N.R.A. sign were done on purpose), and there are a few very inventive Action sequences well worth checking this one out. It doesn’t reach the fun of Demolition Man or the inspired heights of Cliffhanger, but it’s still pretty damn good. It’s dated now, but in a good way. And not many movies from the 90s can boast that.
[THE MORAL OF THE STORY]
Don’t kill people for a living.
[THE AOBG ACTION CHECKLIST]
[ ] Athlete(s) Turned “Actor”
[X] Clinging To The Outside Of A Moving Vehicle
[ ] Crotch Attack
[X] Dialogue Telling Us How Bad-Ass The Main Character(s) Is/Are
[ ] Ending Featuring An Ambulance, A Blanket or A Towel
[X] Factory/Warehouse/Castle (abandoned motel)
[X] Giant Explosion(s)
[ ] Heavy Artillery
[X] Improvised Weapon(s)
[ ] Macho Mode(s) Of Transportation
[ ] Main Character Sports Facial Accessory(s)
[ ] Manly Embrace(s)
[ ] Notorious Stunt-Man Sighting
[X] Passage(s) Of Time Via Montage
[ ] Politically Fueled Plot Point(s)
[X] Senseless Destruction Of Property
[X] Shoot Out(s) and/or Sword Fight(s)
[X] Slow-Motion Finishing Move(s)/Death(s)
[X] Stupid Authoritative Figure(s)
[ ] Substance Usage and/or Abuse
[ ] Tis The Season
[ ] Torture Sequence(s)
[ ] Unnecessary Sequel
[X] Vehicle Chase(s)
[ ] Vigilante Justice
[TOTAL: 11 outta 25]