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The Playlist's Guide To Assassins In The Movies

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist April 8, 2011 at 4:45AM

We often don’t know where they come from, their real names or even why they do what they do. Yet, as an audience, we are frequently enamored with the glossy thrill of power offered to a hitman, a silent assassin disappearing into the night. Why hitmen have been such a genre staple isn’t hard to see - you put a gun into the hand of a major character, and boom! drama. The idea of a hired gun, someone whose line of work involves ending human lives without passion or emotion, is naturally fraught with tension and emotional weight.
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Saoirse Ronan Hanna


We often don't know where they come from, their real names or even why they do what they do. Yet, as an audience, we are frequently enamored with the glossy thrill of power offered to a hitman, a silent assassin disappearing into the night. Why hitmen have been such a genre staple isn’t hard to see - you put a gun into the hand of a major character, and boom! drama. The idea of a hired gun, someone whose line of work involves ending human lives without passion or emotion, is naturally fraught with tension and emotional weight.

We here at The Playlist love a good assassin flick as much as anyone, from Melville's classic underworld fables to modern-day reinventions like Joe Wright's "Hanna," which opens today. While Wright's film is laced with the kind of perverse humor native to the genre, its protagonist is far from the typical ilk - a young woman, albeit exceptionally well-trained in the deadly arts. The career choice that crosses gender and cultural lines, The Playlist is proud to present our take on the many hired killer movies that have crossed our path - and survived:

"Blast of Silence" (1961)
It’s the adoration of filmmakers like Martin Scorsese (and its inclusion as part of the illustrious Criterion Collection) that seems to have saved "Blast of Silence" from black-and-white B-movie obscurity. That’s not to say the movie isn’t great, because, well, it is, but the tale of a low-level leg breaker (Allen Baron) hired to execute a gangster isn’t, at least from the outset, all that unique. But what makes "Blast of Silence" so compelling, besides its amazingly gruff narration, is its singular bleakness and commitment to showcasing the day-to-day ugliness of being a working class sociopath. If you don't feel like taking a shower immediately after watching "Blast of Silence" (those rats!), then you probably weren't paying attention. [A]

"Branded to Kill" (1967)
Probably the best known, most widely seen film by singular director Seijun Suzuki, "Branded To Kill" has a lot to answer for – namely, how anyone, anywhere, could get away with directing a film this batshit insane for a major studio. The film that drove a stake between Nikkatsu Studios and Suzuki is a glorious free-association action thriller with a groovy bent that you just can’t quite get a handle on. Goro Hanada (frequent Suzuki colab Joe Shishido) is hitman Number Three. After a botched assassination, he is summarily stripped of rank and…branded to be killed! Also, he can only achieve full arousal when faced with a bowl of steaming rice. Suzuki is a madman fueled by improvisation with Shishido as his muse/puppet and "Branded To Kill" easily avoids classification, coasting on weirdness and visual trickery that feels brazenly fresh. Any further description would genuinely take away from the experience of puzzling out a frequently confusing but never dull feature, so Netflix away. [A-]

This article is related to: Films, Feature, Hanna, Features, Saoirse Ronan


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


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