Assassins (1995)
Assassins (1995)

Genre: Action and Thriller Running Time: 2 hrs. 12 min.

Release Date: October 6th, 1995 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Richard Donner Actors: Sylvester Stallone, Antonio Banderas, Julianne Moore, Anatoly Davydov, Muse Watson, Stephen Kahan, Kelly Rowan, Reed Diamond

 


 

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rincipled assassin Robert Rath (Sylvester Stallone) escorts his target through a thick, foggy marsh for a cold, emotionless execution. When the mark pleads for a more honorable death, Rath hands him a chambered handgun for a clean suicide. Though this bleak introduction casts a troubling light on the leading role, Rath is an antihero above all else; it’s only when his conscience forces him to question his career choice that a glimmer of redemption becomes visible. Nevertheless, when his employer issues another prime contract – this time worth $200,000 – Rath accepts.

The new target is billionaire Alan Branch (Stephen Kahan), long suspected of money laundering and drug trafficking, currently attending the funeral of his brother. When Rath shows up with a gun carefully hidden in an arm cast, he’s surprised by the appearance of another assassin, who beats him to the kill with a stealthy sniper rifle. A chase, a shootout, an arrest, a wreck, and a murderous escape later and hitman Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas in an overly idiosyncratic yet fitting performance) is out on the streets, arranging for transportation to the airport. But Rath is one step ahead, and steals a cab to trap his new quarry. Bain, however, is unpredictably (or equally) crazy and flips a hostage situation into a high-speed highway shooting match and police pursuit. When Rath demands to know from his handler why a competitor stole the contract, he begins to recognize a series of betrayals and setups that points to a very convenient time for an exit from the business. But a final hit worth $2 million, against surveillance expert Electra (Julianne Moore as a strikingly sultry cat lady) selling sensitive information to four Dutch buyers in Seattle, is just too tempting to ignore.

An unforgivable barrage of extreme coincidences allows Bain and Rath to continue crossing paths, as well as sleuthing abilities that are so farfetched they simply don’t make sense. It’s one thing to assume the assassins are exceedingly skilled at sharpshooting and subversion; it’s another to enable them to track ludicrously minute details and exhibit superhuman resilience. And despite such attention to their unlikely talents outside of manslaughter, the script also manages touches of humor and a love story (which seems to want to contribute to the R rating, but never does).

While many adventure movies pit role models against idolizers or masters against pupils or older sages versus cocky youngsters (this film draws numerous parallels to modern killers, as in “The Mechanic” [1972], and even classic killers, as in “Man of the West” [1958]), “Assassins” ups the ante with action sequences that are unusually suspenseful and well designed. In the hands of director Richard Donner and writers Andy and Larry Wachowski, a sensational collection of gun battles, face-offs, and car chases embellishes a destructive cat and mouse endeavor (symbolized unsubtly by a pet cat always accompanying Electra), complete with uncommon contemplation and ample collateral damage. Interestingly, the finale isn’t about a no-holds-barred confrontation to top the previous clashes, but rather a supremely nerve-wracking waiting game. And though the concept is riveting, the film manages to add even more contrivances and cheap tactics for drawing out the inevitable outcome. In the end, it’s something of an overdramatic, pensive, softhearted hitman flick, disguised by a few great shootouts.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10