Top Ten Tuesday: Professional Killers – The Good Guys
Some people work at a desk, pushing paper… some people do manual labor, working outdoors, or in factories… some manage others and some are managed… but, a select few highly-skilled folks kill for a living. These professional killers are a lonesome breed, focused and cold, fully committed to their trade. If you were ever meet one,well… it probably means you’re not going to have a good day. However, at least in Hollywood, these mysterious assassins are not all bad guys. These movies tell us some of these skilled takers of lives actually have hearts, can love another or put their training to use for a better good. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about the movies that feature Professional Killers – The Good Guys.
10. LA FEMME NIKITA
Ah, Luc Besson with your love for professional killer movies. Where would we be without you? But, some of you may not know the movie Besson is most recognized for, LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, isn’t the first time he created a hired assassin for the silver screen. In 1990, Besson wrote and directed LA FEMME NIKITA starring the luxurious Anne Parillaud. Now, before you jump in and say, “Wait, I thought that was the USA show starring Peta Wilson that always came on after wrestling on Monday night,” let me step in front of you and say, “Yeah, you’re right, but that show was based on Besson’s movie.” In case you’re not aware of the film, it stars Parillaud as a troubled girl who commits a felony. Instead of going to jail, she is taken by the government to be trained as a hitman… hitwoman… hit-person. Multitudes of violence ensue. While LEON is a more noted film (and probably for good reason), LA FEMME NIKITA, or just NIKITA, as it was known in its native country, is a visually daring and extremely cool entry into the assassin sub-genre. Parillaud kicks ass and looks great doing it, and Besson’s continuously moving camera never lets us miss a moment of the action. The film is so memorable, in fact, that it was previously remade in 1993 as POINT OF NO RETURN starring Bridget Fonda. The 1997 TV series starring Pita Wilson was a huge success that ran for five seasons, and, in fact, CW just announced recently they are bringing a new take on the film to their network. Starring Maggie Q, their version is simply called NIKITA. Such a long journey for such a badass chick.
09. ROAD TO PERDITION
Sam Mendes’ sophomore film follows Michael Sullivan, a heavy for the Chicago Irish mob betrayed by one of his own. After the murder of his wife and youngest son, Michael escapes with his eldest son and begins to pursue the one responsible — a fellow mobster and son of the boss, seeking to cover the tracks of his own crimes. Paul Newman earned his final Oscar nomination as John Rooney, the mob boss and surrogate father to Sullivan, while a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig played his treacherous son Connor Rooney magnificently. Surprisingly, the most controversial casting choice was Tom Hanks as the protagonist. While Hanks was and continues to be a huge box office star, his bread-and-butter roles until this movie tended towards the sainted good guys (Forrest Gump, Philadelphia, Sleepless in Seattle) or the good-natured troublemakers (Big, Bachelor Party, A League of Their Own). This film arguably marked his first role as a true “bad guy”. Ironically, it was exactly Hanks’ friendly and somewhat mischievous persona that made Sullivan such a conflicted and believable character, both a loving family man and a hardened, vengeance-seeking killer.
08. IN BRUGES
IN BRUGES (2008) is the tale of a pair of foul-mouthed Irish hit men laying low in the picturesque city of Bruges, Belgium after one of them has accidentally killed a child in a church. It doesn’t sound like a humorous premise but there are plenty of laugh out loud moments in this black comedy written and directed by Martin McDonagh, an acclaimed playwright. IN BRUGES portrays its killers as three-dimensional characters with fears, guilt, hope and decency. Colin Farrell is touching as the wounded lead and Brendan Gleeson serves as a steady counter-point to his strung-out partner. But its Ralph Fiennes as the psychotic and ruthless crime boss who steals the film.
After making EL MARIACHI on a ridiculously low-budget, Robert Rodriguez was ushered into Hollywood with his bigger budget sequel DESPERADO. The onslaught of money didn’t taint Rodriguez’s vision, but merely fueled his passion for extravagant, romantic violence as Antonio Banderas dawns the mariachi mercenary’s guitar case of death. Driven by his love for Carolina, played by Salma Hayek, El Mariachi blazes a trail of death and destruction. With the help of his two trusty — and equally deadly — mariachi mates, the trio’s reputation precedes them as they move from town to town, Hell-bent on killing the ruthless cartel boss Bucho. Rodriguez debuts his trademark sense of humor and flair for dramatized, glorified violence. The carnage in DESPERADO is creative, almost operatic. Banderas proves extremely charismatic as El Mariachi, while Salma Hayek’s early Hollywood performance, propels her into the mainstream as El Mariachi’s love interest for which he fights.
06. THE KILLER
THE KILLER (1989) is about a warm-hearted hitman forced to look after a nightclub singer he accidentally blinds during a gunfight all while a hotshot detective and a ruthless mob are on his tail. THE KILLER is a loud, ferocious, hyper-kinetic thriller that kicked off the Hong Kong action film craze (at least in this country). It also happens to be one of the best action dramas ever made. John Woo brings a humane poetry to the film that most American actioners never measure up to. Chow Yun-Fat epitomizes coolness; with his fancy suits and gunplay acrobatics, he emits a gangster chic with a debonair touch even when sliding backwards in a church running through ammunition.
05. GROSSE POINTE BLANK
Remember when John Cusack made good movies? It’s getting harder and harder, I know, but stroll with me a little down Memory Lane, back to a time when Cusack still embraced his persona as a slightly off-kilter, sometimes neurotic — but always lovable — outsider. Think: Lloyd Dobler. Think: Rob Gordon. And oh yes, don’t forget: Martin Blank. A contract killer who’s rethinking his career path, Blank returns to the titular Detroit suburb for his 10 year high school reunion. After resparking romance with the girl he stood up on Prom night, Blank sets about to finish his last assignment and close up shop. Unfortunately, that last target turns out to be the father of his love interest, whom he must now save from a rival assassin, while avoiding the federal agents on his tail as well. Witty, violent, and hilarious, this dark comedy highlighted Cusack’s knack for sarcastic, neurotic humor perfectly.
04. THE MECHANIC
In THE MECHANIC (1972) Charles Bronson played Bishop, a secluded hit man targeting various underworld figures who decides to take on an apprentice (Jan-Michael Vincent), which leads to a deadly relationship between teacher and pupil. Of all the major stars in the history of Hollywood, Charles Bronson had the least range as an actor, but THE MECHANIC shows why he didn’t need it. The man could coast on presence, charisma, and silent brooding menace like no one’s business and he probably thought range was for sissies. Bishop, even more so than Paul Kersey in the DEATH WISH films, is perhaps Bronson’s most iconic role and THE MECHANIC is one of his best films. The remake, starring Jason Statham and Ben Foster, is due out later this year.
03. GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI
Writer/Director Jim Jarmusch (DEAD MAN, BROKEN FLOWERS) can be an acquired taste, but for those who have found the beauty and fascination present in each of his often dryly comical and offbeat movies, few are more satisfying than GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI. This intelligently designed film, combines classical samurai wisdom and lore with a more contemporary urban setting and hero. Forrest Whitaker plays Ghost Dog, an African-American assassin-for-hire… stealthy, efficient and reliable, Ghost Dog practices and upholds the code of the samurai in a modern world that has all but tossed the teachings of ancient warriors into the gutter. Inevitably, it is this very strict adherence to the samurai code that leads Ghost Dog to turn on his criminal master, a mafia man who raised him from a boy to become the professional killer he is today. In harmony with his samurai code, Ghost Dog obeys and respects his master despite his evil deeds and affiliations, until they go too far. The subtlety of how the film progresses and a clearly present Zen influence, work in contrast with the contemporary genre cliches to create an absolutely compelling movie that’s entertaining and thought-provoking.
02. JASON BOURNE Trilogy
The JASON BOURNE Trilogy is so much a series remembered for not only Matt Damon’s ability to kick just about anyone’s ass with just about any weapon he can find, it’s remembered for Paul Greengrass’ in-your-face camera work. Some may not even remember the original, 2002 film was directed by Doug Liman, a man who, at one point, was looking like the next big thing. With SWINGERS and GO under his belt already, he took on the Paul Ludlum novel, contemporizing it into the cool, action, thriller we remember so fondly. The film was a success pulling in $214 worldwide against a $60-million budget. Of course, differences with Universal Studios (Liman’s original version of BOURNE IDENTITY had to go back for reshoots to pump up the action) caused Liman to step back for the next, two films and serve as only executive producer. Enter Paul Greengrass who took the style and cool of THE BOURNE IDENTITY and made THE BOURNE SUPREMACY and THE BOURNE ULTIMATUM his own. It worked, too, as SUPREMACY made $288 million worldwide against a $75-million budget, and ULTIMATUM raked in $442 million after a $110-million budget. All of the films were huge, critical successes, too, achieving an 83% for IDENTITY, 81% for SUPREMACY and an astounding 93% for ULTIMATUM. Ã‚ Grand successes, indeed. So, it’s no surprise Universal wants to continue with a fourth film. However, those differences seem to have popped up, as Greengrass and Damon have stepped away from the film. Whoever comes in to fill those shoes had better have some mighty big feet. Talent wouldn’t hurt, either.
01. LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL
The ultimate example of a highly-skilled, deadly and dangerous killer with a heart of gold. In Luc Besson’s masterpiece LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL, Jean Reno stars as Leon, an Italian man raised not just to be a contract killer, but to be the best. Leon lives alone, sticking to his routine, doing jobs and making serious cash, which his adopted father-figure and manager Tony (Danny Aiello) holds for him in safety. Leon’s life outside of his “job” is pretty dull and monotonous, but its all leon has ever known… that is, until he meets the young firecracker Mathilda (Natalie Portman). Orphaned by the psychotic Detective Stanfield (Gary Oldman) and his corrupt cops, Mathilda finds shelter under the very capable watch of apartment neighbor Leon. As the two unlikely friends grow more comfortable with each other, they begin to teach each other about life. Mathilda teaches Leon how to have fun and, in many ways, be the kid he never had a chance to be. Reluctant at first, Leon teaches Mathilda the art and code of being a professional killer. LEON: THE PROFESSIONAL contains all the right stuff… incredible action sequences, tremendous performances across the board, brilliant directing and a smart, believable story with lots of heart and originality.