Judge Ian Visser will make your death look like an accident.
"You know, you're really quite charming when you're not killing people."
Something of a box-office dud upon its theatrical release, Hitman: Unrated Edition now arrives on DVD. Will it find a wider audience, or will it be garroted to death while sitting on the toilet?
Facts of the Case
Somewhere in the world there exists a shadowy entity known only as The Organization. Known to every government on earth, The Organization raises orphans from childhood to be ruthless killers; each learns the valuable playground skills of martial arts and combat weaponry. All trainees receive a number, a shaved head, and a tattooed barcode on the back of said melon to complete their educations.
One of The Organization's best killers is 47 (Timothy Olyphant, Deadwood). When 47 is hired to assassinate Russian president Mikhail Belicoff (Ulrich Thomsen, Kingdom of Heaven), he does so with only a minimum of fuss—but when Belicoff appears in public again almost immediately, 47 finds himself pursued by both The Organization and the Russian secret service. Complicating matters further is Interpol cop Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott, Ripley's Game), who has been pursuing 47 in an attempt to prove to his superiors that both he and The Organization exist.
Oh, and somewhere along the way 47 collects Belicoff's indentured sex-slave Nika (Olga Kurylenko, Paris Je T'Aime) as a sidekick. 47 must now fight his former comrades and a litany of eurotrash bad guys while saving the girl, protecting his own life, and exposing a cover-up that reaches to the highest levels of the Russian government.
I didn't hold out a lot of hope for Hitman: Unrated Edition when I opted for this review. The film tanked at the box office under middling reviews, and all the elements seemed to be in place for a whopper of a crap-fest. The first major film to be directed by a newcomer? Check. Based on a video game? Check. A litany of B-list actors? Check. What I expected was a blurry assemblage of quick-cutting and needless slo-mo that rendered any plot or characterization negligible. In short, I expected Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, Part 2.
As it turns out, Hitman: Unrated Edition is a decent shooter that is well-handled by director Xavier Gens (Frontière). Now that doesn't mean that it makes any sense: even the most die-hard action fan is going to have a hard time overlooking the numerous plot holes and gaffes in this story. Heck, I've watched it twice already and I'm still not entirely sure I've managed to connect all the dots. But if you can put your brain in neutral and just let the bullets whiz by you, count on some enjoyable, if ultimately forgettable, entertainment.
Although the plot is pure nonsense, director Gens redeems himself in the direction department. Avoiding the shaky-cam and quick-cut methods dominating action films these days, Gens instead opts for sequences that are well-shot and easy to follow. The fistfights are on par with the Bourne series, and are actually better in some instances due to the stability of, and the distance maintained by, the camera. Similarly, the numerous gunfights are well-choreographed and comprehensible, even if the CG-assisted splashes of blood are a bit over the top on occasion. Gens also limits the so-called "cool" shots that tend to afflict this kind of film; mercifully, there are few instances where the film gives in to the temptation of slow-motion or a shot is inserted simply because it is neat to look at. The result is a fast-paced effort that only reduces speed to fill in the occasional plot twist or story element.
Most the players making an appearance in Hitman: Unrated Edition have decent acting chops. Dougray Scott adds an edge of frustration to a character surrounded by people interfering with his investigation for their own purposes, and Olyphant, who I always felt was the weakest of the Deadwood cast, does a good job playing a man of few words but of many bullets. In the eye-candy department we get Ukrainian actress Olga Kurylenko, who is stunning enough to have snagged the coveted "Bond girl" role in the next 007 film. Kurylenko's job is largely to stand around and look pretty, which she certainly does, especially if you have a thing for sexually aggressive women with dragons tattooed on their faces.
Hitman: Unrated Edition has a deep, rich look to it that makes good use of its various European and African locales. There is dimness present throughout the film, but this appears to be a result of the cinematography, not a poor transfer. Black levels are solid and there are no instances of flaring or edge enhancement. On the audio side, both the English 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound and English 5.1 DTS tracks are aggressive, but the techno-influenced music seems to be keyed too loud, rendering some dialogue difficult to hear at times. It's not prohibitive, but there were a few times where I had to cock my ear to hear some of the back-and-forth between characters. Also included are 2-channel Dolby Digital tracks in Spanish and French, and subtitles on the English tracks in Spanish and English.
This release of the DVD comes with the "unrated" designation. I've seen the theatrical version, and I can testify that this unrated edition is definitely more graphic. The blood sprays and squibs are cranked way up here, and a machete vs. arm scene is restored, as well. Also included is a scene of sexual torture that isn't prolonged, but is still a bit uncomfortable to watch. In short, this edition definitely isn't for the kids.
Fox must be hoping for a wider audience for the film on DVD, because it has included a bunch of special features in this edition. These include a gag reel, five deleted scenes (including an alternate ending), and six trailers for other Fox releases. Also included is a series of four mini-documentaries, each examining a different aspect of the production. These include:
• "Digital Hits"—Viewers get a profile of the video game on which the film was based, including interviews with cast members, game designers, and industry experts. Topics featured include how the roles were cast, the transition from computer screen to the silver screen, and the impact the game had on the industry.
• "Settling the Score"—A chronicle of how the music was conceived and created for the film. This is an in-depth piece, but you have to wonder if the average fan of this movie would be interested in orchestral recordings and the like.
• "Instruments of Destruction"—Take a look inside the world of movie hardware, as prop masters and weapon technicians explain the science behind making guns go "pop." Actors discuss their adaptation to the weaponry and six of the films on-screen guns are discussed and profiled.
• "In the Crosshairs"—An overall chronicle of the film's production shows how the game made it to the big screen. Interviews with the actors, producers, and the director illustrate the challenges and accomplishments of the project.
Overall, these are solid features that give a good perspective of the film-making process. There isn't much included that rocks the boat, although the interviews with the various actors suggest that most of them knew that they weren't making a cinematic classic. Still, the amount of detail included here should please those who want to know more about both the video game and the resulting film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Hitman: Unrated Edition is based on a video game, and as a result tends to be led by a "Hey, you know what would be cool?" mentality that eschews realism for some ridiculous set pieces. I'm not an expert on ballistics or bullet behavior, but I'm pretty sure you can't avoid helicopter gunship bullets by hiding behind a wooden table. And why a gang of trained killers would abandon their firearms for some sword-fighting action is even less comprehensible to me. Actor Timothy Olyphant freely admits in one of the featurettes that a lot of what happens makes no sense, but that doesn't make suspending one's disbelief any easier.
If you're looking for perfection in an action move, watching Hitman: Unrated Edition will be a frustrating experience. While the missteps in terms of story and plot are too large to ignore, the good stuff almost makes up for it. If you're able to forgive some shortcomings in order to satisfy your action fix, you should definitely give this release a shot.
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Scales of Justice
• Four Featurettes
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