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DVD Review

Assassin(s) (1997)


Starring: Michel Serrault, Mathieu Kassovitz and Mehdi Benoufa
Optimum World
RRP: £15.99
Certificate: 18
Available 25 February 2008

Max has little to look forward to in life. He lives with his mother and has a work experience placement that consists of drilling holes in metal. That all changes when he meets Mr Wagner, an assassin for hire who is coming to the end of his working life and is looking for a protégé…

Assassin(s) (1997) is directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, who co-wrote the film with Nicholas Boukhrief. The movie gained a Golden Palm nomination for Kassovitz and won an honourable mention at the Stockhom Film Festival. Like his more famous La Haine (1995) this is another film about the demoralised and vacuous lives of the poor French working classes. And, like, La Haine this is either a film which you will love or find unnecessarily nihilistically violent with a missing moral core.

Although the synopsis may lead you to think that this will be a film either about a young man's journey into becoming a romantic assassin, or one in which he turns his back on violence, it's a very different type of movie. The violence is brutal in its graphicness. Few of the murdered have the good grace to fall over, the way they do in American film. In this world the victims scream in pain and beg for their lives, making the experience of being a filmic voyeur an uncomfortable experience.

What the film is trying to say is difficult to know. Most of the interior shots are decorated with a television, indeed when they are not killing people the two males that come into Mr Wagner’s life spend most of their time watching the television which is pumping out an endless stream of sex and violence. Wagner rails against politicians and just about everyone else as being corrupt. So, are we to take from that that a corrupt system with no moral code and a decadent television system, will produce killers? As a philosophy that seems a little simplistic, and a bit of an insult to all those families which do their best even in the worst of circumstances. Of course, if you agree with Kassovitz, then it gives a nice pat answer as to why kids go off to shoot their schools up.

The most interesting character is Mr Wagner, played by Michel Serrault, who truly seems to believe that what he does for a job has a moral code - even though he is quite willing to kill men, women and children for a price. The interaction that he has with Max shows the lie that he is living. Had he really felt morally justified in his action then why is he reliant on drugs to deal with how he feels? Kassovitz also plays the part of Max, a part he plays well but there is a certain lack of conviction in his turning into a killer for a living. The third main character Mehdi, played by Benoufa, is surprisingly good when you consider this is his début role.

At the end of the day it is what it is, although I’m certain that there was a message in there somewhere. In the end it’s a film that’s worth watching once, but I can’t see that there is enough here to make you want to repeatedly watch it.

The film has a very nice 1.78:1 aspect ratio print, but the audio is a disappointing stereo. The movie is in French with optional subtitles. The only extra is the original theatrical trailer.


Charles Packer

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