What I was expecting: action, shooting, explosions, swearing, thin plot, a few laughs and a couple of shots of Ryan Reynold’s backside. I mean that’s his thing, right?
Was that what I got?
I’m going to start with the nitpicks, not because I have nothing good to say, but because they really bug me. Two major issues: first, the film apparently takes place in some alternate universe in which bullet-proof glass was never invented. On this rests two key plot points that set up the rest of the story. Yes, I know there are bullets that can go through bullet proof glass, but even so, that really only excuses one of the two scenes. The second is a legal point: a judge who apparently doesn’t know the difference between hearsay and eyewitness testimony. This matters a lot.
The plot goes thusly: a particularly nasty dictator (Gary Oldman in suitably scenery-chewing form) is on trial at The Hague for human rights abuses. Samuel L Jackson is a hit man who is needed to testify against him. Oldman’s character has been systematically eliminating witnesses but the real reason Jackson’s testimony matters is that previous witnesses have been disregarded on the grounds that their words are hearsay. Except that it’s not. Hearsay is repeating what someone else has told you, and the witness we see get dismissed is testifying that his wife and son were shot in front of him. That’s not hearsay. Possibly it’s not enough, with no supporting physical evidence, but it’s a bad sign that the film kicks off by assuming the audience are stupid.
Still, once the action gets going, it’s a fair old romp. Jackson and Reynolds have great chemistry and play off each other really well. It’s not as funny as I expected but the laughs are good ones.
The best thing in the movie, though, is Selma Hyak as the hitman’s wife. She is so deliciously foul-mouthed and tough, she actually out-Jacksons Jackson, which takes some doing. The flashback scene where she and Jackson first meet is, well, it’s violent, but it’s also really great. There is a pretty fine line between realistic violence and brutality-porn (you know, the kind where the director/cinematographer tries to make blood spatter look glamorous or beautiful). This film stays on the realistic side. The “heroes” are unpleasant, violent people and the audience is, in places, invited to empathise with that, but other than in that one scene, where we are seeing it through a lover’s eyes, it never quite tips over into glamourising murder.
There is a half-hearted attempt to make a moral point: Jackson asks at one point who is more evil – the man who makes his living killing bad guys or the man being paid to protect them. For a few minutes, it’s an interesting point, but this isn’t a film interested in engaging the intellect so it doesn’t last.
If that sounds too critical, I don’t mean it that way. This film knows what it is. Lots of action, shooting and explosions, a few laughs, a surprisingly romantic sub-plot, and despite its flaws, enough of a plot to keep the action going. No shots of Ryan Reynold’s ass, though.
I look forward to the inevitable sequel.