Over the years, I’ve seen more than my share of violent movies. But to lure me to the multiplex, they need some redeeming features. First and foremost, give me a gorgeous superhero, like Liam Hemsworth as Thor or Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Intriguing plots, alternative universes and mind-boggling special effects can also draw me in, as can sardonically dark action films like Kill Bill or the latest by the Cohen Brothers. And I adored Wonder Woman, may even see it again. But I found The Hitman’s Bodyguard surprisingly unsettling.
Billed as an action comedy, the film starring Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds has topped the box office for three weekends in a row, the only movie to do so this summer. Ready for a break from our respective writing projects, my husband and I settled on it as a Saturday night diversion. It begins in a slow, almost stately fashion as Ryan Reynolds, playing bodyguard Michael Bryce, escorts a Japanese arms dealer to his private jet. All goes well until his client waves goodbye from the window and a sharpshooter’s bullet makes his head explode.
I’ll let Wikipedia explain further:
Two years later, Bryce has fallen into disgrace and ekes out a living protecting drug-addicted corporate executives. Meanwhile, Vladislav Dukhovich, the ruthless and bloodthirsty dictator of Belarus, is put on trial for crimes against humanity at the International Court of Justice. The prosecution is unable to make headway against him, as they are unable to substantiate their allegations with physical evidence and Dukhovich assassinates any witnesses who could do so. The prosecution’s last hope is notorious hitman Darius Kincaid, who agrees to testify against Dukhovich in exchange for the exoneration of his wife Sonia, who is currently incarcerated.
The script had been kicking around for a few years as an action/adventure project, and the decision to turn it into an action comedy reportedly came at the last minute, when the two stars signed on. The film got mediocre reviews, scoring only 40% on Rotten Tomatoes, but critics and viewers alike were beguiled by the interplay of Reynolds and Jackson as rivals of longstanding, with their nonstop bantering and one-upmanship.
After the intro, the film turned into a standard action movie with nonstop car chases and shoot-em-ups, with state-of-the-art automatic weaponry. As the tempo ramped up, so did the body count, with dozens of victims mowed down by gunfire or smashed by the speeding cars. It was virtually impossible to tell the good guys from the bad guys, and countless innocent bystanders were mowed down as well. Naturally the two anti-heroes survived it all, against overwhelming odds. So did the women they loved. Given the film’s boffo box office, a sequel is probably already in the works.
So what’s wrong with this picture? For me, the nonstop carnage grew ever more nauseating, especially because the collateral damage was treated so casually as backdrop to Jackson’s and Reynolds’ fraught interactions. As their backgrounds were revealed, the characters grew ever more sympathetic. Meanwhile the instrumental music of the soundtrack added to the frenetic momentum of the action, and my reptilian brain was caught up in the adrenaline excitement even as my superego was telling me, “This is disgusting. I shouldn’t be enjoying it so much.”
The scenes shot in London and Amsterdam were gorgeous, and then there were the songs. In the flashback when Jackson meets the love of his life, an over-the-top spitfire played by Salma Hayak, we hear Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello,” one of the most gorgeous love songs of the last few decades. And when Reynolds reunites with his lady love, we hear Foreigner’s “I Want to Know What Love Is,” another ballad guaranteed to tug at the most cynical of heartstrings. There’s Chuck Berry’s “Little Queenie” and a bunch of blues singers good enough to tempt me to buy a soundtrack album.
These days, films that glorify violence dominate the market. Whether it’s bows and arrows, as in the Hunger Games series, or the latest in explosives and automatic weapons, as in The Hitman’s Bodyguard, death and destruction are calculated to excite the viewer at a deeply visceral level. More often than not, the heroes survive despite impossible odds and live to fight another day. Internationally, these films are one of America’s most lucrative exports. How big a role do they play in ramping up the level of gun violence in our country?
Leaving the theatre, I overheard a man speaking to a disabled woman he was pushing in a wheelchair decorated with yellow plastic flowers. “You understand those people weren’t really getting killed, right? They were all acting, it was just make-believe.” She mumbled her agreement, but she didn’t seem convinced.
How do you feel about violent action movies? Do you boycott them, or are they one of your guilty pleasures? And in all my 261 blog posts, I believe this is my first movie review. Are you interested in seeing more, or am I wandering too far off topic? I’d love to hear your comments.