BOOKS AND ARTS NOVEMBER 21, 2007
“I’m going to ask you a question,” a bald assassin (Timothy Olyphant) tells the Interpol agent (Dougray Scott) he’s holding at gunpoint early in Hitman. “How you answer it will determine how this night ends.” The question is about when one is justified in taking the life of another, and though the movie ultimately offers an answer (roughly, “who knows?”), it doesn’t spend a great deal of time meditating on the subject. Hitman is, after all, based on a video game, and too much abstract moral theorizing might get in the way of its body count.
The film implicitly poses other questions as well, chief among them: Why is it that the world’s preeminent assassination organization requires all its contractors to keep their heads neatly shaved at all times, clearly displaying the bar code tattooed on the backs of their skulls? In addition to radically simplifying the jobs of the policemen sent to find them, one imagines this affectation would wreak havoc in the Wal-Mart checkout line. (“No, seriously, I brought this in with me.”)
The plot of Hitman, such as it is, is this: Olyphant’s titular character (who eventually explains that he has no name, only a number: “47”) is sent to kill a Russian president (Ulrich Thomsen) who has grown too politically moderate for some tastes. The hit goes according to plan, but afterward the president—whose arterial spray soaked everyone within 10 yards when he was shot—appears on television unharmed. A double, perhaps? Meanwhile, a contract has been taken out on Agent 47, as well as on Nika (Olga Kurylenko), the president’s former prostitute, who sports a dragon tattoo on one cheek and a series of very short skirts over the others. The two team up to track down the imposter-president—which is to say, 47 tries to exceed his name in the number of anonymous henchmen he kills while Nika pouts, whinges, and periodically undresses.
If this sounds to you like a good movie, you are probably a 15-year-old boy, and God help you. For other readers, I can only caution that director Xavier Gens has carefully scrubbed his film of anything resembling character, emotion, or narrative coherence, with the upshot that Hitman has all the appeal of watching someone else play a particularly dull and violent video game. When, in the midst of one of her occasional whine sessions, Nika explains, “It is a strange thing to wish to die,” you may find yourself uncomfortably empathetic.CHRISTOPHER ORR is a senior editor at The New Republic.