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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.
10

The Memory of a Killer" (2003)
It’s safe to assume that a hired killer needs to remember their target. So just how dangerous is a silver-haired career murderer with an onset of Alzheimer’s? Known as “The Alzheimer Case” beyond the U.S. this 2003 Belgian entry to the Academy Awards is a well made, if conventional, thriller held aloft by a genuinely fascinating concept – killer Angelo Ledda (Jan Decleir) is literally losing his mind. Racked by episodes of memory loss, Ledda wages war on a former employer while meticulous Detective Eric Vincke (Koen De Bouw) closes in on a conspiracy that will bring both men together for an anti-climatic, but still undeniably effective finale. It hasn’t aged particularly well due to some aggressive editing flourishes, but still works as an engaging thriller. [B]

Munich" (2005)
Though not every film he made during this period was a success (we’re looking at you, “The Terminal”), Steven Spielberg was on quite a roll in the early 2000s. In the summer of 2005 as his “War of the Worlds” re-imaginging was hitting theatres, he was still deep in filming “Munich,” (his sixth film in four years), which he would rush to complete for its December release. This urgency finds its way into the film which even with an epic running time of nearly 3 hours, never drags for a moment. Based on the true story of the men assembled to assassinate the people behind the Israeli murders at the 1972 Munich Olympics, “Munich” shows the veteran filmmaker operating on pure instinct. If you’re not familiar with the events depicted, you’ll have to pay close attention to keep up because thankfully the film doesn’t slow to bog the audience down with exposition. Spielberg has always had a knack for casting and the ensemble here is no exception: a terrific Eric Bana (who hasn’t found a role this great since) leads the team with support from Daniel Craig, Ciaran Hinds, Mathieu Kassovitz and Geoffrey Rush among others, all giving it their “A” game. The rushed pace of the film (and its production) mostly result in a great energy throughout (the suspense sequences are expertly done and the violence is clumsy, ugly and brutal) but a few stumbles in the last act keep it from being a true masterpiece. [A-]

Road To Perdition" (2002)
After sweeping the Oscars with his debut film, the divisive suburban satire “American Beauty,” Sam Mendes turned his attention to this graphic novel by Max Allan Collins and Richard Piers Rayner. Tom Hanks (in his darkest role to date) stars as a hitman, Michael Sullivan, seeking revenge on his former employer and surrogate father, John Rooney (Paul Newman) for killing his family. He goes on the run taking along his young son (Tyler Hoechlin) while being pursued by a nasty assassin (a nearly unrecognizable Jude Law) and a seething Daniel Craig appears as Rooney’s jealous son. The graphic novel may have been pulpy but Mendes and screenwriter David Self strip the story down bare to a film about fathers and sons and the consequences of violence. The dialogue is spare but the images tell the story; it was the last film to be shot by veteran cinematographer Conrad L. Hall (“Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid”) and it’s jaw droppingly beautiful. At the time of it’s release, the film was a modest hit receiving positive reviews and grossing over $100 million in the U.S. alone. But a decade later and it seems to have been almost forgotten which is a shame because this is a film that deserves to be discovered. [A]

The American" (2010)
While “The American” befuddled mainstream audiences (this reviewer’s mother is convinced the only reason George Clooney made the movie is because he could stay at his house at Lake Como while shooting) that mostly had to do with the film’s marketing campaign, which sold it as a high-octane thriller instead of the atmospheric mood piece it really was. And, taken on its own, “The American,” directed by music video auteur Anton Corbijn, is a corking contraption – a gorgeously rendered story of an assassin hiding out in an idyllic Italian village whose past catches up with him. The film is deliberately paced without ever being draggy, and despite some heavy-handed allegorical touches (we get it – butterflies), is nearly note perfect in its tone and, pardon the expression, execution. [A-]

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


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