Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Assassins



ASSASSINS (1995)

Directed by: Richard Donner
Screenplay: The Wachowski Brothers and Brian Helgeland
Starring: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas & Julianne Moore

A somewhat underrated and forgotten Sly Stallone vehicle that is perhaps a lot better than you remember it. Solid direction from Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner, a manic but impressive performance from Banderas, a boat load of Hollywood slickness and plenty of cool action makes Assassins a watchable, enjoyable and, in this day and age of CGI excess, refreshing action movie to watch.

Now the story, heavily re-written by Brian Helgeland from The Wachowski’s originally more dark and sexy script, is not the most original in terms of action cinema and was obviously re-tooled to make it a more Stallone friendly vehicle. He and Banderas play two assassins trying to kill one another, Stallone the old dog who wants out of the business while Banderas is the young hot shot who wants to be number one. In between trying to shoot one another and some intriguing conversations they have about the roles they play within the killing world, sexy Julianne Moore gets caught up in the mix as a feisty computer expert who is the next target on both the assassin’s lists. The two then fight one another across several cities and even continents, trying to kill each other, protect Moore and do something or other with a top secret disk.



Assassins was unfairly lumbered in with the flicks that saw Stallone losing some of his limelight (The Specialist, Get Carter, Driven) and while it’s not as great as the likes of First Blood, Demolition Man and Cliffhanger, it’s still a decent slab of Hollywood action cinema. Stallone is a little more subdued here, never really dishing out one liners and playing a much more quiet and restrained character. Some say he seems disinterested in the role but he seems to be toning down his action image, giving his character the melancholy feel he needs after living a life in solitude. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have Banderas sizzling across the screen as the hyperactive Miguel Bain; an attention deficit disorder assassin that gets itchy and twitchy if he isn’t killing somebody. Banderas is great fun and keeps the character the right side of camp, still making him deadly even when he’s shaking his arms all over the place and sweating like a pig. Likewise, Moore is a refreshingly sparky female action character, her computer hacker a feisty heroine to Stallone’s hero.



Word is that The Wachowski’s original script was a much darker ride before getting the Hollywood polish. Written and produced before the success of The Matrix, it would have been interesting to see their true version of Assassins. Instead we get a decent re-write from Brian Helgeland (LA Confidential, Conspiracy Theory) that while never breaking new ground does a decent job of delivering a slick spy action movie. There are still shades of darkness there: Moore’s character has the rather sinister trait of being a voyeur, watching here neighbours via video cameras going about their lives; Bandera’s Miguel Bain is a very violent man, cutting down people with his gun as soon as look at them; and, heck, the flick even opens with Stallone handing a gun to a guy so he can shoot himself in the head. Yeah, not so many wisecracks here.

But what Assassins is, is a very entertaining, action packed Richard Donner film. He orchestrates some excellent action sequences and fleshes out the characters just enough to give us a little bit more meat to chew on in between the shootouts. The set-pieces are tight and thrilling showing a sense of control much like the assassins would have. Yes, there are some car chases and explosions but the gunfire and fire-fights are much more restrained. They have a brutal impact to them as the assassins go at one another, and anyone else, with silenced pistols and rifles in hotel rooms and apartment complexes. There is also a cool, if little absurd, conversation cum gunfight/car chase between the two assassins in a taxi cab, the two separated by a shield of bullet proof glass and unable to shoot one another.

Overall, Assassins is a worthy, straight-laced and hugely enjoyable Hollywood action movie. It may not be remembered as Stallone’s best but it’s certainly worthy of rediscovery and don’t write it off just because it’s a Hollywood flick with a bunch of big stars in it. Cool action: cool movie.

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