The Assignment

The Assignment ★★½

As inexplicable of a motion picture as you are likely to find these days.

Michelle Rodriguez (as gender-reassigned gun-for-hire Frank Kitchen) is trying to pull off a miracle. Nobody, no matter how sincere the approach, can act their way through a beard as fake as the one we're introduced to here. But that gentle wisecrack aside, how is it that Walter Hill came to make an almost totally tone deaf action film about the - incidental - transgender experience?

I don't completely believe that this movie's existence is a fluke. I'm not saying that it's traditionally good, but I have a certain amount of faith in Walter Hill that he wouldn't make something without a reason behind it, even if the reason is one-sided or misguided. What if Walter Hill's most problematic movie is actually his most personal, but being able to see this potential truth is a journey that only a rare few are willing to make? This is a half-cocked hypothesis, but maybe this film is Walter Hill telling us that he doesn't want to be go out as a genre guy, a director known best for macho fairytales and stylish shootouts. He's an old school guy living in a world in which the expiration date for his kind is coming up or long past. He can't make those types of movies anymore. Maybe he doesn't want to, either. Maybe "change is gonna come," as Kitchen says at the end of the movie.

THE ASSIGNMENT's commitment to stylish action choreography and the depiction of violence is timid, despite billing itself as a neo-noir and going out of its way to draw attention to its only occasional comic book panel aesthetic. It doesn't wholly commit to any of its advertised aspects. What resonates most is the platonic love story between a man and a dog (who doesn't care if he is rich, poor, man, woman, etc.) and a romantic love story perverted by the inescapable past that goes with the territory of being a hit man. These are the moments where the movie stretches out, expands to fill the frame, and seems most alive. Everything else is the cinematic equivalent of whipped cream: empty calories. And maybe Hill wants more, too. Will another food metaphor help illustrate my point? Maybe Hill wants to serve one last feast, but he wants to change up the menu. A different palate. I think I'm hungry? Anyway, my point is I don't want to just write this off as a major misfire by a man whose aim has been dead-on throughout most of his career. I still haven't seen his otherwise most recent movie, BULLET TO THE HEAD, so I don't know how it measures up, though I did sit in on an audio mixing session when it was in post-production. Maybe I was just excited to meet Walter Hill (I mean, duh), but he still seemed just as invested in the process of crafting a movie as ever I had imagined him. That's my take.

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