Filmgoer’s Flamethrower #11 – The Hitman’s Bodyguard

Posted: March 15, 2018 in Uncategorized

© 2018 G.N. Jacobs

Wow! Sometimes you land on brilliance where you least expect it and The Hitman’s Bodyguard fits that bill.

Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) protects wealthy clients. Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) shoots said wealthy clients for money, but only if they fit his criteria for being bad people. One day, Bryce protects a wealthy Japanese man from hotel to airport with the help of twenty underlings all in cool cars. The client boards his Learjet and…someone puts a bullet through the aircraft window right into the man’s head. Two years later, a depressed and angry Bryce has fallen to servicing protection gigs best described as being only two small steps away from being a mall rent-a-cop. An old girlfriend he blamed for the client’s death reappears after she nearly gets killed delivering witnesses against Belarus strongman, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), currently on trial in the Hague.

Many bad movies trade on the standard pitch of Cop and Criminal or Bodyguard and Assassin thrown together for survival and coming to learn how close they are in worldview. Several good movies, this one included, also use this pitch. What makes The Hitman’s Bodyguard stand out so much is the frankly surprising manner achieving the final product on screen.

It begins with the right casting for an example of the Seemingly Opposites Attract subgroup of Buddy Film. Yeah, throw Deadpool and Nick Fury together in a movie and see what happens. Mister Reynolds deceptively plays against his Deadpool persona as an initially by the book by the numbers kind of rigid planner, while still managing the underlying charming goofiness of his acting career that we hope he never loses. By contrast, Mr. Jackson plays to his strengths defined by his turn as the immortal Jules in Pulp Fiction presenting the thematic opposite personality, a born romantic seat of the pants killer with a reason. Let the fireworks commence.

Both men eat up all available scenery with copious Tapatió presenting their characters. And we come to see how their characters really only differ when factoring for the Planner versus Embracing Chaos debate and perhaps how often each will resort to cuss words. They pretty much do the same thing; kill bad guys for money taking modestly different approaches: the client is bad or the assassin is bad, both statements can be true. More importantly, since this high octane Buddy Road Movie trades on their underlying similarities we should point out that they are most alike when it comes to their women.

Darius met his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) in a bar in Honduras of the type that we might declare a stereotypical One Percenter Biker Bar, but for that we don’t associate Honduras with very much of the Outlaw Biker lifestyle. In a flashback presented with spot on slow motion, the lady serving the drinks didn’t like her treatment at the hands of various pig customers. Darius rose from his seat to assist the lady, but found himself in Love at First Slashed Artery when it was basically all over but the shouting before he could even straighten up his back.

Similarly, Bryce secretly still pines for Interpol Agent Amelia Roussel (Élodie Yung) whom he met at the funeral of a client dead of excessive mayonnaise (the one thing a bodyguard can’t do). The Interpol agents are made when trying to arrest an associate of the guest of honor and mayhem ensues in yet another slow motion extravaganza. Amelia and Bryce land in each other’s arms. Can you see how these men basically have the same love interest?

Unfortunately, Amelia is more plot device to ferret out traitors to the trial among the ranks of Interpol in the Hague than character while Sonia gets all kinds of good lines lovingly referring to her man as a cockroach, unkillable. But, even though, structurally speaking, these ladies merely highlight aspects of the men the filmmakers really wanted us to know I found myself wishing for a girl chat moment between them.

As much as I enjoyed the slow motion dance back at their Honduras bar where Darius escaped prison to remember his anniversary with Sonia for the absolute last shot of the movie, a good way to get more out of this hilariously chaotic scene in my opinion was to turn the moment into a kind of double date coda for both couples. In this imaginary pretend scene, Darius dances with his sweetie amid the violent chaos of the bar where they met. Bryce arrives once the romantic slow motion ends to warn Darius that Amelia will soon be there to make the arrest, only to have Amelia enter with cops and handcuffs. Sonia busts Amelia for ingratitude considering that Darius played relationship therapist during a key action scene. Sonia and Amelia share a whiskey commiserating about their shared taste in men.

Yes, yes, I just fucked up a solid ending in its simplicity adding ten more moving parts to the cake (horrible mixed metaphor there). It’s just that this fantastically silly movie managed to make me want more and that’s a good thing.

A word about Gary Oldman. His part isn’t on screen long enough despite opening the movie with his crimes against humanity for us to really sink our teeth. It’s as if Mister Oldman had other dramatic fish to fry last year (Darkest Hour, anyone?) and even the filmmakers probably just assumed the thespian would independently develop the character and arc and thus the decided to leave him to his own devices as long as his dictator portrayal made any kind of sense. However, Mr. Oldman pulls off the thankless task of doing something interesting with a cardboard cutout thus justifying his hiring.

But, this movie succeeds on more than great casting and the resulting highly skilled acting, but in a frankly brilliant balancing of the comedy elements with a frantic and frenetic visual style more akin to a John Wick film than what is supposed to be an action-comedy. This is important because action-comedies don’t develop this brutal style of cinematic mayhem and still be funny, which this experience does. And just so you know the trailer that made me regret missing this movie the theaters last year only played up the funny (the singing Italian nuns on the bus), so color me immensely surprised.

The stunt work proved exciting, formulaic underneath and reassuring. I assert the previous sentence because if I wanted to be more of a movie snob showing off that watching movies and reading books is what I do I would go Chapter and Verse ticking off the James Bond movies from which they borrowed their gags (including a few moments from A View to Kill of all things). But, I’m reassured by anyone willing to plagiarize from the best.

Musically, the original score, such as it was, proved mostly forgettable, but the licensed song drop-ins over big moments knocked things out of the park. And we get to hear an interesting dichotomy between Samuel L. Jackson and Darius Kincaid in that the character can’t really carry a tune singing a personally important song, while the actor sings the same song over the end credits and hits the mark.

At which point, it’s time to move on to the next movie and I won’t bloviate further about liking the European and British locations or any of the other thousand small things that depending on execution either make a movie silly in a tragically bad way or elevate things to sublime good silliness worthy of nearly 1,300 words saying so. What, you’re still here? Review’s over, go home!

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