“The Hitman’s Bodyguard”

The Hitman's Bodyguard

YOU HAVE TO admire the bravery of Patrick Hughes for casting at the centre of his new film, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, two of the more polarising actors to be working today. For those who find either Ryan Reynolds or Samuel L. Jackson irritating, watching––or perhaps it would be better to say enduring––this film must be about as enjoyable as being punched in the face. For those who can’t stand both, it must feel like the sort of experience that you could only recover from with the help of a patient therapist and a lifetime supply of clozapine.

The story begins with the assassination of a Japanese businessmen through the window of his private jet, to the shock and professional horror of “triple-A rated executive protection agent” (or “bodyguard”, as some people insist on saying) Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), who had, until that point, done an excellent job of keeping him safe. (That might, on reflection, have been the wrong adjective to use). At any rate, a year later, Bryce has stubble, which is cinematic language for being either washed-up or French, and I think we can probably eliminate the second option. Thanks to our troublesome mystery assassin, Bryce has lost his triple-A rating but is nevertheless as competent as he ever was.


Bloodthirsty dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, (played by the always-brilliant Gary Oldman, who is presumably in the film for ironic reasons) is on trial for assorted war crimes committed in Belarus which, we’re helpfully told, is a “former Soviet Union” country, and therefore a swirling vortex of nihilism, lawlessness and goat stew.


Meanwhile bloodthirsty dictator Vladislav Dukhovich, (played by the always-brilliant Gary Oldman, who is presumably in the film for ironic reasons) is on trial for assorted war crimes committed in Belarus which, we’re helpfully told, is a “former Soviet Union” country, and therefore a swirling vortex of nihilism, lawlessness and goat stew. The success of Dukhovich’s trial for all that indiscriminate slaughter rests on the shoulders of an elite hitman named Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson, Jr.), who is to be taken to the International Court of Justice in The Hague by a specialist protection team in an effort to prevent or foil any attempts at an intervention by Dukhovich’s killing squads. Needless to say things don’t quite go according to plan, and Amelia Ryder, an Interpol agent and one of the only surviving members of the fragmented protection detail, calls on a former flame to finish the job and get Kincaid to The Hague. Accordingly, our bodyguard comes to find himself protecting our hitman.

As I suggested in my opening remarks, the degree to which you enjoy The Hitman’s Bodyguard will rest in a large part on how fond you are of its principal players. I am, at best, ambivalent about the both of them, although Ryan Reynolds has been in my good books, so to say, since his appearance in the brilliant Deadpool. As a result I can’t help but feel that handing over the usual sum of money to see this film would have felt pretty bloody expensive. The Hitman’s Bodyguard is fundamentally a buddy cop flick, only without the cops, or what the great Roger Ebert used to call a “Wunza Movie”, as in “One’s a …, the other’s a …” These films invariably got the same way: they include a good deal of reluctant cooperation and verbal sparring between the two main characters and usually end with an understanding that both the main characters actually quite like each other. How lovely.


Hughes and cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin treat us to a variety of landscapes and cityscapes of Belarus, the Netherlands and the UK. (Fortunately we’re still told if the scene takes place in, say, Amsterdam, because the gratuitous shots of flowers, canals, prostitutes and signs in Dutch might otherwise lead you to think you were in Stockport).


The film is notable for including a lot of what you might call Europe porn, given the vast majority of the action takes place in London and Amsterdam. Hughes and cinematographer Jules O’Loughlin treat us to a variety of landscapes and cityscapes of Belarus, the Netherlands and the UK. (Fortunately we’re still told if the scene takes place in, say, Amsterdam, because the gratuitous shots of flowers, canals, prostitutes and signs in Dutch might otherwise lead you to think you were in Stockport). It would be unfair to say that there aren’t a few genuine laughs in The Hitman’s Bodyguard––a scene on a bus full of nuns might just force a laugh out of even the most composed filmgoer––and the action scenes are well-choreographed and well-executed by O’Loughlin. There’s more than one thrilling chase sequence that I’d probably remember even more fondly if Baby Driver wasn’t so fresh in my memory, although the sequences in The Hitman’s Bodyguard do run to a breathtakingly unoriginal stock action score. There are decent enough supporting performances by a foul-mouthed Salma Hayek, who plays Kincaid’s incarcerated wife, and Élodie Yung, and there’s an amusing cameo by Richard E. Grant early on in the film.

The question as to whether you should see this film could be resolved by a flow chart. Do you find Samuel L. Jackson and/or Ryan Reynolds annoying? If so, then don’t see this film. If not, then, Do you like buddy cop films? If not, then don’t see this film. If so, then, well, I mean, maybe.

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“Kong: Skull Island”

Kong: Skull Island

THERE’S AN EXCHANGE in Lucky Number Slevin––a film, incidentally, that thinks it’s far more clever than it is––between Josh Hartnett’s eponymous Slevin Kelevra and the designated love interest, Lucy Liu’s Lindsey. The pair are walking down the street, talking about the actors that have portrayed the Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. At some point Slevin mentions that he prefers the Blofeld of From Russia with Love because “that’’s when the villain is most effective, when you don’t know what he looks like.”

He’s right, of course: the less you see of the villain (or the monster in this case), the more effective it tends to be. After all, the products of the imagination are far more terrifying than those of reality. Anthony Hopkins, for instance, playing Hannibal Lecter, had a paltry sixteen minutes of screen time in The Silence of the Lambs (for which he won an Oscar, incidentally), while Jurassic Park, a film that I don’t need to tell you is about dinosaurs, has just fifteen minutes of dinosaur screen time. And where would we be without mentioning the brilliant Alien, in which the Xenomorph is on screen for a mere three-and-a-half minutes.


In the case of Kong: Skull Island, in which the titular giant ape appears briefly early on and then again half an hour later (after which he doesn’t really go away again) how you wish the creators had subscribed to the Alien and Jaws school of filmmaking.


The creators of successive versions of King Kong have never really paid much attention to this idea, and, if we are to be fair, Deep Blue Sea and similar movies prove you can make a good film in which the monster remains front and centre, so to speak, throughout. Various King Kong films, including the 1933 original, achieved that feat. But in the case of Kong: Skull Island, in which the titular giant ape appears briefly early on and then again half an hour later (after which he doesn’t really go away again) how you wish the creators had subscribed to the Alien and Jaws school of filmmaking, and how you wish that they also hadn’t decided to make the same Kong supposedly featured in Jackson’s 2005 attempt so many times larger.

The film begins in 1944 and in the middle of the Second World War. Two fighter pilots––one American and the other Japanese––parachute onto an island in the South Pacific after a dogfight. They start to continue fighting on the ground, only for the enormous figure of Kong to appear. In 1973, U.S. government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires a veteran tracker, Captain James Conrad of the S.A.S. (Tom Hiddleston), to lead an expedition to the mysterious “Skull Island” and map it out. It’s a fairly clumsy and pointless allusion to Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness, which was the inspiration for the Vietnam War film based on the story, Apocalypse Now. Also part of the group is photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a Vietnam War helicopter squadron called the Sky Devils, led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Immediately after arriving on Skull Island, Packard and his merry band begin dropping bombs, which rouses a very irritated Kong.

When a character has been around long enough––in this case for more than eighty years––the films or books of which they are the subject start to become less and less surprising. This need not be too much of a problem, but in the case of a character so lacking in nuance as Kong, it tends to become one. To put it another way, it seems unlikely that Kong will, say, develop a drug habit or decide to rob a bank; you know straight away that anything involving Kong will include a division of the characters between those sympathetic to the giant ape on one side, and those hell-bent on destroying it on the other (with plenty of half-baked philosophy about Montaigne and his so-called noble savage implied throughout for good measure).


Kong is repeatedly and tediously revealed until the sight of him looming over the building across from your flat wouldn’t prompt so much as a raised eyebrow. His island surroundings, meanwhile, are overfilled with assorted CGI monsters which range from enormous buffalo to the sort of slimy, tentacled abominations you might see if you were to peer through the mist of Stephen King’s novel of the same name.


Kong is repeatedly and tediously revealed until the sight of him looming over the building across from your flat wouldn’t prompt so much as a raised eyebrow. His island surroundings, meanwhile, are overfilled with assorted CGI monsters which range from enormous buffalo to the sort of slimy, tentacled abominations you might see if you were to peer through the mist of Stephen King’s novel of the same name. There’s a lazy subplot involving a particularly nasty species of creatures vying with Kong for control of the island that is also needlessly introduced. Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, in other words, make the amateurish mistake of trying to make Kong interesting by telling us as much as they possibly can about his history and the history of his peculiar surroundings, and in doing, strip away all remaining mystique. And you have the sense at any rate that the entire history and mythology of Skull Island was devised over a heap of cocaine in a dorm-room one night. By comparison, Peter Jackson’s 2005 reboot seems tastefully restrained. And what really is a crying shame is that the Skull Island creators couldn’t conceive of anything that makes the most of a formidable cast that includes Brie Larson, John Goodman and Tom Hiddleston. The script is stripped bare, so to speak, of any humour and any subtlety.

There are, if we are to be fair, one or two good things about the film. The consistent Toby Kebbell, who plays both a helicopter pilot and, in motion capture, the giant ape himself, is very good, while Brie Larson does the best she can with what she’s given, which isn’t much. The scenery is the film’s best feature, and the scene in which the helicopter squadron rouse Kong when they first arrive at the island is just about engaging enough, but the fact remains: future offerings featuring King Kong will have to be a lot better than this.

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