Fifty years ago this month, Arthur Penn’s film Bonnie And Clyde came out and changed for ever the way violence was depicted on the silver screen. It became more brutal, but also more real.
That movie’s notoriously shocking finale, in which the two outlaws were riddled with bullets in balletic slow-motion, was deliberately intended to evoke the Kennedy assassination four years earlier.
But Penn also meant it as a reference to the raging Vietnam War. He wanted to show that the forces of ‘good’ could be even nastier than the alleged bad guys.
Underwhelming: The Hitman’s Bodyguard is not much good, but it’s not exactly bad either. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are charismatic leads and there are some pulse-quickening action sequences
In other words, there was a point to those horribly graphic deaths. But 50 more years in the so-called evolution of cinema have seen film-makers become steadily less mature in their treatment of violence, resulting in the grotesque spectacle of people being murdered and maimed not as an attempt to appeal, but to amuse.
In other words, more and more corpses are piling up on screen in the name of comedy.
The Hitman’s Bodyguard is the latest example of this deeply worrying trend. It’s not much good, but it’s not exactly bad either. Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson are charismatic leads and there are some pulse-quickening action sequences. But heavens above, it’s bloody. And worse than glorifying or romanticising violence, which Bonnie And Clyde arguably did all those years ago, it trivialises it.
Boring: Rather than glorifying or romanticising violence, which Arthur Penn’s Bonnie And Clyde arguably did all those years ago, it trivialises it
For example, in a blatant contrivance to maximise the potential for ‘comedic’ pain, director Patrick Hughes steers an Amsterdam chase scene through a restaurant kitchen and on into a hardware store. So one baddie gets his face griddled next to the burgers, and another is garrotted by a length of chain.
Hilarious, I know. And to emphasise just how lightly we’re meant to take all this, the violence gets a cheerful musical accompaniment; Chuck Berry singing Little Queenie, a regular foot-tapper.
And there’s a grisly torture scene, also played for laughs.
Drama: Elsewhere a trial is unfolding at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In the dock is the former leader of Belarus, a savage war criminal called Dukhovich (Gary Oldman)
As for the plot facilitating all this jaunty brutality, Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, an ‘executive protection agent’ whose CIA training has turned him into the world’s best bodyguard.
We first meet him shepherding a Japanese arms dealer onto a private jet in London, but when his client gets it in the neck, Bryce’s reputation crumbles.
A couple of years later, he is reduced to protecting a cocaine-addled businessman (a cameo, or rather a hameo, for Richard E. Grant, over-acting with his customary pop-eyed zeal).
Bizarre: For some implausible reason, the testimony of only one man can convict him. That man is Darius Kinkaid (Samuel L. Jackson), the world’s greatest assassin, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence in Manchester, of all places
Meanwhile, a trial is unfolding at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. In the dock is the former leader of Belarus, a savage war criminal called Dukhovich (Gary Oldman).
For some implausible reason, the testimony of only one man can convict him. That man is Darius Kinkaid (Samuel L. Ja
ckson), the world’s greatest assassin, who is serving a lengthy prison sentence in Manchester, of all places.
A squad of Interpol agents must get Kincaid safely to the trial, but someone at Interpol is feeding information to Dukhovich, and his goons are waiting to pounce in Coventry city centre.
Before you’ve had time to ask yourself why on earth anyone would pass through Coventry on the way from Manchester to The Hague, a gunfight erupts the like of which Coventry has certainly never seen.
Implausible: A squad of Interpol agents must get Kincaid safely to the trial, but someone at Interpol is feeding information to Dukhovich, and his goons are waiting to pounce in Coventry city centre
Even by OK Corral standards, it’s a bit much. But one of the few survivors is Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung), who promptly calls her ex-boyfriend, Bryce, and gives him the job of transporting Kincaid on to the Netherlands, so that he can nail the dastardly Dukhovich.
The problem with this is that the two men are sworn enemies; Kincaid has tried to kill Bryce 28 times. So what follows is like a histrionic version of Midnight Run, the 1988 comedy in which Robert De Niro’s bounty hunter traded insults with Charles Grodin’s mob accountant as he tried to get him safely across America.
Certainly, the script by Tom O’Connor (not, I think, the silver-haired Liverpudlian comedian of the same name, former presenter of TV’s Name That Tune) strives desperately for the same sort of edgy rapport that made Midnight Run such a delight.
Nice try: Reynolds and Jackson give it their best shot, and succeed in raising a few laughs
Reynolds and Jackson give it their best shot, too, and succeed in raising a few laughs.
But violence is the name of the tune here. Violence and almost incontinent profanity, not least from Salma Hayek as Kincaid’s imprisoned wife, who inhabits one of two very sketchily-drawn sub-plots. The other concerns Bryce’s break-up with Roussel, about which we are supposed to care even though the script doesn’t.
With little else hitting the multi-plexes this week, The Hitman’s Bodyguard may be the best of a mediocre lot. But it is an instantly forgettable film, notable only for its contribution to a disturbing slide in cinematic morality.
The Dark Tower (12A)
Verdict: Hopelessly muddled
In STEPHEN KING’S series of horror-sci-fi-fantasy novels inspired The Dark Tower, which is a promising start for any project.
After all, it was King’s writing which yielded The Shining, The Shawshank Redemption, Misery and Stand By Me, among many other fine movies. The Dark Tower does not belong in such exalted company.
There is plenty to like, especially a terrific lead performance by young Tom Taylor as Jake, an 11-year-old American boy propelled through a portal (in Brooklyn, naturally) into unimaginable inter-galactic adventures.
Good effort: Idris Elba puts in a decent shift as a strong silent gunman in The Dark Tower
Idris Elba also puts in a decent shift as Jake’s other-worldly protector, a strong silent gunman. Together, they’re a little like Brandon deWilde and Alan Ladd in the classic 1953 Western, Shane… with monsters.
On the whole, though, this is a chaotically muddled affair, which tries to marry The Lord Of The Rings with The Hunger Games with the old-fashioned Hollywood western, and inevitably fails.
The title refers to a vast structure which protects everyone in the universe from the forces of darkness.
Only the minds of certain ‘special’ children are pure and strong enough to topple the tower and unleash Armageddon, so Matthew McConaughey – playing a cross between Jack Palance in Shane, the Childcatcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Christopher Walken in almost anything you care to mention, and the devil himself – needs to harness them.
Not good: On the whole, though, this is a chaotically muddled affair, which tries to ma
rry The Lord Of The Rings with The Hunger Games with the old-fashioned Hollywood western, and inevitably fails
Jake, growing up in New York with his lovely mother and not-so-lovely stepfather, is one such child. He has such strong psychic powers that he can visualise both McConaughey’s ‘Man in Black’ and his nemesis, Elba’s ‘Gunslinger’, even before he meets them. So when he does, he has a vague idea of what’s going to happen.
Unfortunately, director Nikolaj Arcel is similarly vague. There are a handful of brilliant sequences let down by an undisciplined narrative, and McConaughey somehow both overdoes it and underdoes it. If you can imagine a laconic, Texan pantomime villain, that’s pretty much what he is.
The Dark Tower has by all accounts taken years to reach the screen. It really wasn’t worth the wait.