Hitman is yet another film to take its inspiration from a video game franchise. Here, the smooth-headed Timothy Olyphant is Agent 47, an orphan raised by a covert international organisation called simply the Agency, who have brainwashed him into becoming a lethally adroit automaton. Fast-forward twenty years or so and he has committed over 100 murders on six continents and is one of the most elusive assassins in the world.
The story begins when he arrives in St Petersburg to kill the moderate Russian president, Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen). He believes himself to have done so, but hours later the president is speaking on live television. There’s been a double cross, the Agency has betrayed him and soon he is being pursued by Interpol and the Russian FSB headed by Yuri Marklov (Robert Knepper).
But how difficult can it be to hunt down a man with a barcode tattooed on the back of his bald head? And when it comes to his sartorial decisions he wears the same luxurious red tie, white shirt and black overcoat like a uniform. 47 is no wallflower but Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott) and Jenkins (Michael Offei) from British Intelligence go round and round the world, from London to Russia to Africa, tracking down our deadly dandy. All the usual gizmos are there as 47 fights for his freedom: swish laptop, time bombs, automatic weapons, communication bugs and even bits of old rope implausibly slip him in and out of harms way. But it is the banality of the chase that really peeves. It is disjointed with little focus on the volatile relationship between hunter and prey. The emphasis on logistics makes it one of the dullest pursuits around, to be quickly filed away and forgotten.
The sound and lighting are by far and away the most deftly executed aspect of the direction. The ethereal opening sequence with haunting Ave Maria accompaniment is a captivating flashback. When 47 proposes to three other toughs, How about we die with a little dignity? instead of shooting each other point blank, a gymnastic sword fight to the death ensues. The jaunty angles, rapid pace and austere subway setting, although completely incongruous to the plot, are absorbing. Likewise, much of the iconography is smart but replicated from such flicks as Face/Off, The Godfather and Scarface, such as the gun in the restaurant bathroom and the opulent, cocaine-dusted abodes of the bad guys.
The only emotional kick we are privy to is his weakness for women. Never does he harm the frail and quivering little lambs, even though the blood and brains of the men-folk whip across the screen. Russian prostitute, Nika (Olga Kurylenko), the unhappy sex slave of the drugs-and-arms-dealing presidents brother who throws herself at 47s indifference until eventually, hilariously, she gets a tranquilizer in the neck. However, his affection for her grows and he jovially infantilises her, calling her a “talkative little girl”. We have seen lonelier, more unyielding enigmatic killers before, notably Tom Cruise in Collateral, so this soft spot is a boon well-scored by Olyphant.
The production team have unsurprisingly made a clich-ridden, heartlessly commercial attack on the Hitman concept. But maybe it does make a very good game to movie transition; ideal for an almost guaranteed adolescent male audience who need only behold a trite, jumped-up, pumped-up, lock-and-load, shoot ‘em up, cut ‘em up, fuck ‘em up, mildly misogynist movie with the tedium of much bloodshed and high body counts to be entertained.