An assassin's life can be lonely and difficult, and there are significant barriers to entry, but it seems that the competition is pretty fierce anyway. Who is really the best killer there is? Michael Bonomo's thriller Assassins tries to answer that question.
We start with a botched job. Young Walter (Stephen Katz) was supposed to make the killing look like a robbery gone wrong, but with the head shot and all the random bullet holes, it looks more like a sloppy execution. Walter's boss Hargraves (the excellent Bill Oberst, Jr) does not take kindly to failure, and administers some lethal correction to his employee. When the murder victim's boyfriend Chris (David Pesta) comes home and finds her dead, he's cast adrift. But a pushy police detective (Andre Tenerelli) shows up and claims he's been looking for Hargraves for years, and things get more complicated.
The detective, who may not really be a detective, is named Simon, and he's obsessed with the mysterious killer. He tells Chris that Hargraves will surely kill him if he doesn't accept an offer of protection. Chris reluctantly agrees, and we get to know more about all three men as the film unfolds.
Assassins isn't what you'd described as a roller coaster ride. It has a deliberate pace, and was clearly designed to accommodate a limited budget. While it has some action, some blood and some chilling scenes, it's more of a psychological thriller than anything else. It mostly works, but it's not perfect. The biggest complaint that I had was that the characters talk about doing things much more than they actually do them. In a way, that's a risk that's inherent in any low budget, limited location film. The performances are good enough to carry the viewer through the talky scenes mostly, but it does drag at times.
But there are also a lot of good things to say about the film. The lighting and camera work are moody and evocative. A definite feeling of tension is managed throughout. I had some idea of the twist at the end, but was off by enough that it was a fun and surprising payoff. And, of course, there is the inestimable Bill Oberst, Jr. He's a powerhouse of an actor, and though his part here is restrained and nuanced, Oberst has an impressive screen presence that elevates any film he is in.
To sum up, Assassins isn't a perfect movie, but it is a pretty strong effort on a small budget, with good performances and an interesting story. If you are looking for whiz bang action, this isn't a movie to seek out. But if you'd like to see something thoughtful, with some fierce acting turns and still a good fistfight and a murder or two, then this is a good bet. Recommended.
The image is widescreen, and looks good, with thick shadows and good contrast appropriate to its noirish tone. But this review is based on an e-screener, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
Audio is stereo, and there are no obvious problems, and some pretty effective sound design is evident. However, again, this review is based on an e-screener, so no comment can be made on the quality of the final product.
No comment can be made on the quality or quantity of extras on the final product.
Assassins isn't a perfect movie, but it is a good example of a strong independent offering. This is the kind of introspective story that isn't going to get made by a big studio, but that talented indies can pull off. If you have a special place in your heart for low budget films, as I do, then check it out.