Apr 13, 2008

DVD Review: Hitman (2007)

The one scene that more than any other exemplifies all that is (in its way) great and all that is completely ludicrous about Hitman is one in which Timothy Olyphant’s titular hitman, Agent 47, impersonates an arms buyer named Mr. Price and infiltrates the lair of a sleazy Russian arms dealer named Udre (Lost’s Henry Ian Cusick). Everything is absolutely over-the-top. Udre surrounds himself with barely-dressed prostitutes and young men in equally skimpy outfits, including odd bits of metal wherever feasible. (Like weird, quasi-medieval helmet-masks.) Cusick has a ball playing up the character’s sleaze, employing an appropriately hammy Russian accent and licking (yes, licking) lines of coke off the bodies of the prostitutes with great relish. Agent 47 soon crashes his party by sliding a briefcase full of cash–and a bomb–across the table. The bomb explodes, and the cash flies everywhere, fluttering down in slow motion on the ensuing carnage like snowflakes. Why bother to fill the briefcase with cash at all if it’s really a bomb? Purely for that visual. The scene then plays out almost entirely in slowed-down or sped-up motion, with Agent 47 shooting up everyone in the room except for the women. The action isn’t particularly stylish or balletic in the John Woo/Luc Besson way it desperately wants to be, but it’s all so ridiculously over the top that it can’t possibly be taken seriously. The same can be said for the entire movie, and it’s the very trait that makes it enjoyable.

The general ludicrousness of the whole affair is also one of the traits that led me to compare Hitman to Sixties Eurospy movies when it first came out, and I stand by that assessment today. In fact, the producers themselves bear it out in the 24-minute DVD feature "In the Crosshairs: The Making of Hitman," even if they don’t use the term "Eurospy" specifically. "The character of 47 is very much an international character... and many of his adventures take place overseas, particularly in Europe and Eastern Europe," comments an American producer. His European counterpart notes, in appropriately accented English, "Is not specifically a film of professional assassin; is more close to the spy film." They go on to talk about the mostly European crew, and working with such a diverse international cast. The same comments could easily be made about just about any classic Eurospy production. It’s very interesting to see this Sixties production model still in effect today!

Director Xavier Gens (who doesn’t look much like a director, somehow) and actors Timothy Olyphant and Dougray Scott, as well as former Bond baddie Ulrich Thomsen and future Bond Girl Olga Kurylenko, also contribute to the documentary. Regrettably, it’s one of those pieces that mostly consists of everyone saying why everyone else is right for the part, or right for the direction, etc. At times, the participants even sound like they’re still trying to convince themselves that they made the right decision!

Gens helpfully explains the main character’s arc, which is nice because it’s never that clear in the movie. Basically, as he sees it, Olga’s wayward prostitute character helps Agent 47 grow as a character and not just be a cold-blooded killer anymore. Kurylenko adds, "I think he gets touched by, uh, by her, because he sees... a little reflection of himself in her. And that happens when he notices her tattoo. He has a tattoo, too, on the back of his head and she has a tattoo on her cheek. So I guess that’s what makes him feel closer to her. He can identify with her somehow."

I’m glad Olga clears that up, because it isn’t discernible from their typical interactions in the film! At one point, her character tries to seduce 47, climbing on top of him and commenting (quite aptly), "So good with firearms; not so good with ladies and their garments." He tries to squirm out from under her, prompting the warning, "Careful! I’m not wearing any panties." That’s about all he can handle, so he says simply, "This is a very bad idea." And knocks her out.

So it’s lucky that the special features clarify this ambiguous relationship!

Another featurette, the 10-minute "Digital Hits," focuses on the video game. It contains interviews with game developers, as well as plenty of shots of action-packed gameplay. There’s not much of interest to non-gamers, but it does give the unfamiliar the opportunity to see how close the art direction of the film sticks to the designs in the games.

In the 14-minute "Instruments of Destruction," Weapons Coordinator Christophe Maratier takes us through the filmmakers’ choices of hardware for Hitman, and discusses each gun, even going so far as to demonstrate it on a firing range. The featurette actually turns out to be significantly more than just porn for gun-nuts, though; he also talks about safety aspects of handling weapons on set, and he and the crew discuss certain bits (like 47 crossing his arms with a gun in each hand) that make no sense whatsoever from a tactical perspective, but simply look cool on film.

"Settling the Score" is a 5-minute look at composer Geoff Zanelli’s not-particularly-memorable score for the movie. Soundtrack buffs will find no particularly revelatory insights in the interview with Zanelli, but it provides a decent overview of what a composer does for someone who’s never given it any thought before, and there’s some brief B-roll of the orchestra recording.

Rounding out the special features are a particularly weak, Dougray-centric gag reel and five deleted scenes, ranging from a few seconds to a few minutes and mostly dealing with a wisely-excised subplot about an African warlord. They offer a few more bikini babes, a little more blood, a lot more slow motion, and a new assassination in which 47 disguises himself–a technique I gather he employs frequently in the videogames. The best one is an alternate version of the train sequence in which 47 fights and questions one of his former compatriots. The cut version is a pretty good action sequence, and actually better than what was eventually used in the film. There’s also a slightly baffling and much more downbeat alternate ending with more Kurylenko. If the movie itself had had a little more depth, this conclusion might have been more effective, but as things stand it would have proved pretty incongruous at the end of a mindless slice of escapist schlock.

Ultimately, there’s nothing wrong with escapist schlock, especially in the Eurospy genre. If your goal is nothing more than a feather-light distraction for an hour and change, Hitman fits the bill–especially on DVD, where expectations are generally lower than in the theater. Olga Kurylenko remains the primary attraction, even if she doesn’t really get much to do. She stood out for me the first time I saw this movie, though, and now that she’s since become a Bond Girl, she does even moreso. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with a meatier role, assuming that Paul Haggis & Co. have written her one!

Hitman is certainly worth a rental for fans of the Eurospy genre, and the special features on the two-disc edition are probably better than the movie deserves, so that’s a nice bonus. The fact that it even is two discs, though, is a rip-off. All of the features fit on the first disc (but don’t come on the standard, single-disc edition); Disc 2 is reserved exclusively for an idiotic "digital copy" of the film. I can’t imagine that many people really want Hitman on their iPod, but if you want the well-made bonus content, then you need to shell out for the cumbersomely-named "Digital Copy Special Edition" anyway.

3 comments:

Steve Lefebvre said...

Not having seen the movie, I can't comment on it, but I second your comments on the stupidity of the special features only being available on the two-disc edition (while fitting on the first disc).
I love special features (though not as much as when I started watching DVD's, but some of them are still fun) but I have no use for a digital copy of the movie.

Steve Lefebvre said...

Quick follow-up.
Two days after my previous post, Fox released Juno on DVD (I know, not exactly spy-related...) in two different editions (one single disc, one double) and, just as was the case for Hitman, the two-disc edition has more special features (four featurettes totalling a little over 38 minutes), all of which are housed on the first DVD (the second only featuring a digital copy of the movie).
What is wrong with Fox?!?

Tanner said...

I don't know. This is an awful practice. They argue that the price point difference between the two isn't that high, but when you look at the sale prices offered at discount chains like Best Buy or even on Amazon, the difference becomes even greater. They don't generally discount the two-disc version as much, because they know that the people who care about that sort of stuff will pay whatever they charge. It's all just a ploy to charge more, and it stinks.