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Assassination Tango

MGM // R // December 9, 2003
List Price: $25.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Don Houston | posted December 25, 2003 | E-mail the Author
Movie: Movies about hit men are a dime a dozen these days. I'd be surprised if anyone hasn't seen at least a few in recent years and more over time. Such movies tend to be thrillers where the good guys race against time to stop the hit man and the tension is a given in any attempt to make a formula driven plot as we're all familiar. Not all such movies follow the beaten path however. This is certainly the case in a little movie made as a vanity project for Robert Duvall, Assassination Tango.

The movie centered on an aging killer, John (Robert Duvall), who is still in the business after many years. He doesn't take flack from anyone and is quite set in his ways. He owns the world in his mind, going so far as to openly threaten a cop over a perceived slight, and no one dares challenge his narrow view of the world lest they anger the quick-tempered assassin. He receives an assignment to make a political hit in Buenos Aires, of a corrupt general who is under tight protection. The assignment is scheduled to take only three days, which is good for him since he has plans to attend the birthday party of a young girl who's mother he's dating (that's about half his age). When the target is unexpectedly hurt and sent to a hospital, John is kept waiting inside the country in order to maintain his cover but he suspects the people he works for of setting him up. Years of being in the business have given him an instinct for when things are going sour and he knows he's in trouble when the whole plot seems to unwind.

In the interim, while he waits for the delayed chance to knock off his intended mark, he starts taking Tango lessons, viewing them as essential for maintaining a cultured life. Dance is important to him, as well as the natives, and he falls for a local dancer (Luciana Pedraza) while taking lessons from her. Along the way, he shows the audience how unstable he really is and how under his cool exterior is a churning cauldron of hate and impatience but will he be able to take care of his target before he is seduced by the dance or will he end up in prison for the remaining few years of his life?

Okay, the thriller portion of the movie was barely strong enough to maintain the label "thriller". Aside from some minimal preparations, this section of the movie fell into the glossed-over stereotype of formula-driven suspense story. The dancing part of the movie seemed to be Duvall's true reason for making the movie and while the energetic dancers seemed to have fun in an interesting set of dance scenes, it was hardly enough to keep the interest of this reviewer. In short, it must've been better for him doing the dancing than it was for us watching him do so.

The direction was weak and the story all over the place. The acting by Ms. Pedraza and other supporting cast wasn't bad but Duvall's character was so devoid of humanity in most cases that he came off as a cold jerk that we almost wanted to get caught several times. The sub-plots about the little girl and mother were boring as were most of his preparations for his hunt. Without decent writing and direction, the weak acting killed this one (keep in mind that I'm a fan of Duvall's).

I'm going to rate this one as a Skip It unless you simply must see why Duvall would spend so much time and energy on what amounted to a half-finished script. For this kind of movie, to think the killer is a jerk and to nearly fall asleep while watching is enough to convince me that Duvall might want to let someone else write or direct his next movie if he's going to get so close to his subject that he can't see the forest because the trees are in the way.

Picture: The picture was presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 ratio color. The fleshtones were generally accurate and the grain minimal with only a bit of edge enhancement and video noise. There were some print scratches that popped up but they were not common in the feature. The layer change was at just under an hour and was barely noticeable, as were the rare compression artifacts. There were some scenes where the camera work was weaker than I'd like and a slightly soft focus bothered me but these were not common either.

Sound: The audio was presented with a choice of either the 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround English track, a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo Spanish or Portuguese track with optional subtitles in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. The primary track, the 5.1 English track, was generally crisp and clear although some of the time, the vocals were on the low side. The music was also mixed well and had a lot of depth here.

Extras: The DVD contained a lot of really good extras, taken as a whole, they were better than the feature film. They included an audio commentary by director/writer/producer/star Robert Duvall and his lead dancer Luciana Pedraza; the two discussed the dancing more than anything else and it seemed tedious to me to listen to for extended periods of time, deleted scenes with optional commentary by the stars above, and alternative ending with optional commentary, trailers for the feature and other releases, a photogallery, and a soundtrack commercial as well as a paper insert.

Final Thoughts: I liked watching Pedraza dance and there were a few moments where the suspense part of the show was worth watching but watching others dance, especially if they're keeping their clothes on, is an acquired taste much like watching paint dry and grass grow. If you get it for the dance scenes alone, you'll be nearly as disappointed considering the limitations of those scenes too.

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