HITMAN: AGENT 47. Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Ciarán Hinds, Thomas Kretschmann. Directed by Aleksander Bach. 96 minutes. MA15+ (Strong violence).
Films based on video games are notorious duds, generally unable to capture what fans enjoyed about the game while also developing the narrative to justify an on screen outing. However, this adaptation of the multi-entry ‘Hitman’ series is a slight cut above the rest, making clever narrative choices that add a little emotion to underscore the brutal mayhem.
A voiceover plays during the opening credits, telling the audience of a successful genetic engineering program run in the 1960’s, which was responsible for creating a fleet of physically and mentally gifted – yet emotionally dulled – assassins. The creator of the program went into hiding, pursued by those who wanted to replicate his results to create merciless killers of their own. However, his daughter has resurfaced in the present day, and attention turns to her as a possible lead to locate her father.
The first action scene comes in Berlin, as Agent 47, played by a near-bald Rupert Friend, uses tech-skills, smarts and some serious weaponry to kill a higher-up in the shadowy ‘Syndicate International’. He is on the trail of the missing scientist’s daughter, and now has her location. Friend’s character is pretty one-note (that note being ‘Exterminate! Exterminate!’), and we know little about him beside his preference for Audis and Italian wool suits. That said, the actor’s shark-like eyes convey a haunted killer lurking inside.
Director Aleksander Bach doesn’t do much with this opening battle, and the action is somewhat nondescript, choppily edited by Nicolas De Toth. This reviewer would like to report however, that later scenes have superior offerings to please action aficionados who seek out the movie (particularly moments set in an industrial warehouse and on a Singaporean city street).
The script, written by Skip Woods and Michael Finch, makes the solid choice to cast Agent 47 as the villain for the first act, as the focus shifts to his prey – Katia van Dees, played by British thesp Hannah Ware. She suffers from apparently heightened senses and intimacy issues, and is also on the trail of her father, though she is not aware of their relationship.
Meeting ‘John Smith’ – Zachary Quinto, keen to prove his action chops outside of the ‘Star Trek’ franchise – he tells her of the contract on her head and the truth behind her parentage. Smith works for the Syndicate (not the same Syndicate Ethan Hunt faced off with in the recent ‘Mission Impossible’ film, surely?), and says he wants to help her. They take refuge in the US Embassy together.
What follows is an impressive (albeit illogical) set piece, as 47 breaks in and out of the Embassy with his impressive skillset, kidnapping van Dees. Marco Beltrami’s score returns once more to Agent 47’s theme, an aggressive and pulsing track, which competently boosts the action. 47 explains the Syndicate’s real motives, and the reasons behind her own sensory perceptiveness. With nothing as it seems and all sides closing in on her father, she has little choice but to team up with 47, and travel with him to Singapore to try and save her father’s life.
The familial bond between father and daughter is what anchors much of the film, with both Ware and Ciaran Hinds (playing her ageing father) bringing more emotion to their roles than similar genre films normally require. Between this sentiment and the scattered moments of black humour, the screenplay genuinely feels like the best possible route that the filmmakers could have taken (and markedly better than the lacklustre 2007 attempt titled ‘Hitman’). Their main concession to fans of the game has to be the ruthless violence, which easily earns its MA15+ rating.
As a reasonably entertaining movie for fans and newcomers alike, the movie can be considered a success, and though it may not be saying much, it’s comfortably one of the better video game adaptations that Hollywood has produced. A scene in the closing credits reportedly sets up a sequel by unveiling an iconic character from the game (it’s worth noting that this reviewer is unfamiliar with the game’s lore), and – by the skin of its teeth – it looks as though a sequel has been earned.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out August 20.
20th Century Fox.