I doubt that many of us would ever really want to cross paths with a hitman or assassin in real life, but the movies have a long history (in evidence again with ‘The Hitman’s Bodyguard’ this week) of portraying professional killers as antiheroes worth spending time with or even cheering for. Here are a few of our favorites.
M. Enois Duarte
Three years ago, ‘John Wick‘ practically exploded onto the scene and surprised action fans everywhere, becoming a sleeper hit and quickly growing into a cult phenomenon. Today, it and the sequel are highly regarded as some of the best action flicks of the 21st Century. With its mix of Western themes and martial arts told with an atmospheric, neo-noir flare, the action thriller channels the spirit of classic action films and Hong Kong cinema to tell the story of the most skilled and deadliest assassin. The beauty of the plot – and yes, the film is shockingly beautiful to watch – is Wick’s motivation for returning to the clandestine world of underground crime. In the sequel, Wick’s revenge essentially turns him in a ronin, a lone killer without a house or a master. Adding to the movie’s surprise is Keanu Reeve’s stoic performance that disguises a deeply wounded soul, successfully gaining audience sympathies and making the character extremely memorable.
Once more, ‘Blade Runner’ is the correct answer. I could also see ‘No Country for Old Men’ being a choice pick, or even the excellent ‘Sicario’.
But for more action-focused, simpler fare, the Tom Berenger/Billy Zane ‘Sniper‘ really gets the job done. There are almost no characters in this movie (which makes it a great movie to watch when trying to escape life’s challenges, unless those challenges include professional sniper credibility). Instead, two dudes, a veteran sniper and a younger, softer sniper, spend the bulk of the 98-minute movie schlepping around the jungle trying to decide if the young “gucciflouge” sniper is completely useless in the jungle warfare environment. It may clearly be a ’90s movie, but I dub it an honorary ’80s movie.
Because not many of the staff were able to participate this week, that leaves it to me to drop honorable mentions on some major titles not yet mentioned. Namely: ‘Pulp Fiction’, ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’, ‘Léon: The Professional’, ‘La Femme Nikita’, ‘Collateral’, ‘The Mechanic’ (the original with Charles Bronson), and of course John Woo’s ‘The Killer’.
My personal favorite is a little movie that flew under the radar when it was released back in 2005. In ‘The Matador‘, Pierce Brosnan spoofs his super-suave James Bond persona to play a burnt-out hitman suffering a profound mid-life crisis. His character is childish, rude, vain, and a neurotic mess. While working a hit in Mexico City, he decides that what he needs to set his life straight is a best friend, and determines that an uptight American nobody (Greg Kinnear) he meets in a hotel bar is just the guy for the job – whether he wants it or not. This sets off a dysfunctional buddy comedy about a meek businessman who gets a peek at the wild side and an amoral killer who learns to appreciate the value of life. If that may sound a little pat, the movie is actually funny as hell, with richly-developed characters and a lot of very dark humor. It’s a winner that deserved a lot more attention than it got.
We’ve hardly scratched the surface here. What are your favorite movies about professional killers?