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Timothy Olyphant stars as a mysterious, bar-coded assassin in this French-US videogame adaptation produced by Luc Besson.
Timothy Olyphant is Agent 47, the assassin identifiable only by the bar code tattooed onto the back of his notably bald noggin, in Xavier Gens’ adaptation of the popular video game series of the same name. Told in flashback as Agent 47 relays the story to the Interpol agent (Dougray Scott) who has been on his trail, Hitman is a story of deception and double crosses that sees 47 betrayed by his employers after a hit on the Russian President. Violent gun fights ensue as the narrative rips along at a breakneck pace, and there’s fun to be had watching the sexless assassin’s awkwardness around a pre-Bond Olga Kurylenko.
French director Xavier Gens' second feature (following crime-horror Frontiers) is a based-on-a-video-game action thriller, not unlike xXx or M:I: 3. It's another of those sub-Bond, post-John Woo contemporary action adventures, with a formula that seems quaintly old-fashioned, despite its new media origins. Here we have a hero (or anti-hero, played by a bald-headed, bar-coded Timothy Olyphant) trotting the globe, shooting and scrapping, eluding bad guys (and/or good guys) and saving the girl.
Why has Olyphant got a barcode on his head? He's part of a mysterious monastic organisation made up of the "unwanted and disposable," trained by a rogue order of monks and "programmed for one purpose - to kill". They don't get names, so Olyphant's super-assassin is simply number 47.
The action starts with 47 paying a nocturnal visit to Mike Whittier (Dougray Scott), a London-based Interpol officer who's been on the case of the great bald bogeyman ("the best at what he does,") for three years. We then flash back three months and see him in action in Niger, then in St Petersburg, where a dead-cert hit goes inexplicably wrong. Mr 47 is confused. Even more so when other bar-coded baldies start targeting him. He's got to elude Interpol, the Russian security forces and his own former comrades. Can he crack the conspiracy that has framed him and clear his name?
Skip Woods' (Swordfish) script aspires to some cod philosophising - "How does a good man decide when to kill?" 47 asks Whittier - but it operates at the level of the lowest common denominator. Like most movies based on video games, Hitman is best when it sticks to the action.
In a nutshell: Hitman tries to smuggle in a few big ideas but is best enjoyed as a no-brain actioner.
By Daniel Etherington
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On Film4: 02 April 2015