Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Top Ten Hit Man Movies

There are a lot of movies about hit men, and not because everybody wants to kill people, or even that everyone likes those that do. The Hollywood hit man is a different animal than the real thing (I would guess) much like the Hollywood PI doesn't often resemble the actual one. But, exaggerated movie devices such as, devotion to personal codes of honor, stoic resolve, and surgeon like efficiency, don't need to be realistic, as much as tell a story well.
The occupation itself, a man who sets himself up as a professional judge of life and death is naturally perfect for delving into certain existential dilemmas, most often; disconnection, the bonds that exist in and out of society, the nature and weight of loneliness, and guilt and consequence catching up with you. These are themes we can all relate to, but the hit man shows them in a black and white that most of us don't have, even as he tries to ignore such definition and live in his own grey area.

Other characters, such as cops, mob bosses, freelance psychopaths and even average people out for revenge or self defense, may have to deal with killing, but not in the same way. The Hollywood hit man is typically, the "blue collar" judge, a working man not above his own rules. Even the most skilled often end up dead themselves as a known risk of the occupation. These characters at the edge of life and death naturally present a unique viewpoint to look at life.

These movies usually deal with "the last job." The job doesn't have to be a "job" either, many times it's the fact that the last kill is personal, that signals the hit man's unravelling. In these worlds, any emotion is the enemy, necessary to have any depth of life, but fatal to someone using emotional distance to survive. Usually the guilt of many years of taking lives catches up to the killer and he changes before he dies (or fails to change.) Change is almost always featured and although it most certainly means death, the hit man, like many of us can't help but wrestle with thoughts of the life he doesn't have. He eventually takes the risk, often accepting, fatalistically, that at least death is a change that can happen.
So here are my top ten at this moment. There are many others that could have made my list. Feel free to point out your own favorites in the comments.

10: Michael Sullivan (Tom Hanks) The Road to Perdition
Full Review

A fierce and efficient killer, and also a family man, most notably a father. Michael Sullivan is a loyal employee, happy to be a "breadwinner." When an act of stupidity from his boss's son kills his family however, he can't let it go, even if he has to anger Al Capone's whole organization to get his revenge. Going on the run, he has a unique opportunity to bond with the son he has left, hopefully teaching him in the process not to go the same way he did. He was a great hit man but he was also more than that as his son relates:
"I saw then that my father's only fear was that his son would follow the same road. And that was the last time I ever held a gun. People always thought I grew up on a farm. And I guess, in a way, I did. But I lived a lifetime before that, in those six weeks on the road in the winter of 1931. When people ask me if Michael Sullivan was a good man, or if there was just no good in him at all, I always give the same answer. I just tell them... he was my father. "

9. Arthur Bishop (Charles Bronson) The Mechanic
Full Review

Arthur Bishop approaches contract killing like a science, examining all the factors in his head and on his planning board until he comes up with the perfect method. He lives by his own code and sees nothing more important than to consider himself as someone who "stands outside" the law, society, the whole world. Yet, this philosophy and the loneliness that goes along with it takes it toll on him. Wrestling with his subconscious has effects on his health and leads to his decision to mentor the son of a victim, and more importantly doing so without permission of the organization he works for, which is against the rules. No one knows better than him the consequences for breaking the rules, so we have to wonder if he's just trying to "stand outside" or he's just really tired.

8. Jules Winnfield: (Samuel L. Jackson)Pulp Fiction

One of many colorful characters in Tarantino's brilliant ensemble cast. He paraphrases scripture before killing his victims, "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he who in the name of charity and good will shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you." He's as concerned with sounding cool and terrifying (and he does a good job of it) as he is with the actual hit. When he and his partner are miraculously unharmed by a hail of bullets, he examines himself and realizes that he's a part of the tyranny, he's been referencing and resolves to help others get free of it.

7. Frankie Bono: (Allen Baron) Blast of Silence

Frankie Bono is an orphan who grew into a hired killer so disconnected from the world he doesn't remember how to deal with social situations anymore. His latest hit is set in New York during the Christmas season, the worst time of year for the lonely. Frankie is so silent, we need narration to get into his head. Frankie makes some mistakes,  has to deal with an attempted blackmailing by a gun dealer and even more difficult, seeing a woman he used to know and attending a Christmas Party, breaking his own rules about attachment only to get shut down. Once his loneliness is let out we know it can't go well for Frankie. And we wonder if he could ever have what he feels he's missing. The narrator says of Frankie in the closing:
"God moves in mysterious ways," they said. Maybe he is on your side, the way it all worked out. Remembering other Christmases, wishing for something, something important, something special. And this is it, baby boy Frankie Bono. You're alone now. All alone. The scream is dead. There's no pain. You're home again, back in the cold, black silence. "

6. Joey Cusack/Tom Stall (Viggo Mortensen): A History of Violence
Full Review

Once a gifted killer, but tired of the life, Joey Cusack "kills" his own identity and starts over in a small town as Tom Stall, complete with a respectable business and a seemingly perfect family. When his natural talents come to light, foiling a robbery of his diner, it's clear that people from his past have not forgotten him. He quickly finds that not only have his old skills not left him, but they also show up in his family. Ultimately Tom has to face who he was and figure out who he really is, and whether or not his family can adjust to the knowledge. Certainly not an easy or comfortable question, but an interesting journey.

5. O. ( Takshi Sorimachi) Full Time Killer
Full Review

O is a legendary figure and a true professional. He gets the job done quickly and quietly when no one else can. He's been at it a long time though and when he meets a girl he starts pondering retirement. A competitor, Tok, has no interest in O retiring however, seeing O as the perfect chance to make his reputation. Tok is nothing like O, however except for his gift a killing. Tok is preoccupied with flash and acting like a movie star. Of course the two killers are headed for a showdown and we get to see the limits of O's talents, which pay off in an interesting way, his lack of concern for flash and spectacle allowing him a way out of the life, while in a way also giving Tok what he wanted.

4. Ghost Dog (Forrest Whitaker) Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog is an extreme introvert, who has taken it on himself to follow the way of the Samurai. His self chosen master is a mob boss who may have saved his life years ago. His only friends are a man with an ice cream stand who he can't really speak to due to different languages, and his pigeons. The fact that he can't understand a word his best friend says doesn't bother him any more than the fact that the ancient Samurai code has little compatibility with his situation.While a capable hit man, his adherence to the Samurai code is troubling, particularly when no one else including his "master" have any sense of it at all, and his life is in danger due to complications from a recent hit. We know the master doesn't deserve the loyalty, but if the code must be observed, that leaves Ghost Dog, a man who is more than capable of defending himself, surprisingly defenseless.

3.Charlie Strom (Lee Marvin) The Killers

We see right away that Charlie Strom is a cold blooded killer capable of anything when he has a job to do. He thinks nothing of intimidating the principal at a school for the blind to get the whereabouts of his target Johnny North (John Cassavetes) What he doesn't count on is Johnny accepting his fate without any fuss, even covering for Charlie and his partner so they can get him alone in his room to kill him. While not sympathetic, Charlie is puzzled and needs to know more. They investigate and get Johnny's life story, revealing a love triangle hinging on a girl, Sheila (Angie Dickinson) which put Johnny up against a mob boss, Jack Browning (Ronald Reagan) and a million dollars floating around somewhere. Charlie doesn't mind beating Sheila and dangling her from seven stories up to get the truth. Finding that Sheila and Jack Browning viciously double crossed Johnny, Charlie realizes that the Johnny North didn't fight his death because he was already dead in his own mind. Deciding that Johnny deserves some payback, Charlie assigns himself a job, and knowing that Charlie is Lee Marvin, you can bet it isn't good for Sheila or Jack Browning.

2. Jef Costello (Alain Delon)  Le Samourai

Jef Costello covers all the angles, establishing solid alibis and never forgetting a detail that might incriminate him. He lives meticulously in a small apartment uncluttered with everything arranged in its perfect place. His only notable possession is a bird in a birdcage. Despite his careful methods, he is seen by witnesses, shooting a nightclub owner. The police know it's him but have no proof, as his alibi (his girlfriend Jane) holds up and a witness, Valerie, the piano player at the night club, won't incriminate him. His employer, perhaps upset with the attention, tries to kill him, which means Jef has trouble on all sides. Jef is soon  surprised to be offered a new job by the man who tried to kill him on behalf of his employer earlier. He finds out who sent the man, and for some reason kills his potential employer, realizing he lives in the same house as Valerie the piano player, who Jef is a bit fond of by now.Heading to the nightclub, Valerie sees him approaching with a gun, not realizing that Jef has a different final gesture in mind than you might think.

1. Leon (Jean Reno) Leon: The Professional
Full Review

Leon is so skilled in his craft that no one ever sees him and lives. He lives a solitary existence except for visits to his manager to get his next job. He sees killing as strictly commerce, although he isn't terribly concerned about money, happy to live in a run down apartment building in a cramped apartment. However even his solitude is not perfect, as he often encounters the little girl Mathilde (Natalie Portman) from a neighboring apartment. He notices her bruises without much comment other than a kind greeting. When Mathilde's family is killed by psychotic DEA agent Stansfield (Gary Oldman) and she knocks on Leon's door to avoid being killed herself, he opens it and starts a very real bond, ultimately reconnecting him with humanity and affirming that love is stronger than death.


Widow_Lady302 said...

Love your list! I agree completely Leon is the Number 1! Well constructed as always!

Ms Rebecca said...

The Professional and The History of Violence are my favorites on your list!

INDBrent said...

Thank you Lisa and and Rebecca!

Websnacker said...

Great list Brent. I would have also added Ichi the Killer, Limey, Matador and an other Charles Bronson flick - The Evil That Men Do. Terence Stamp was terrific in Limey.

Anonymous said...

I love leon, wish I had a piggy in my kitchen... =D

alejandro guzman said...

I was reading with interest slowly scrolling down, all the time thinking Jean Reno, Jean Reno!
And lo and behold there he was!

My favourite for sure..
great post love it Brent


alejandro guzman said...

I was reading with interest slowly scrolling down, all the time thinking Jean Reno, Jean Reno!
And lo and behold there he was!

My favourite for sure..
great post love it Brent


alejandro guzman said...

Don't ask me if it my comment came up twice. No idea

Cheers again

Fernando said...

I'm with Alex the professional is the One!

Cheers nicely done

INDBrent said...

@ Hyder, Yes, all good picks. I'm also a big fan of "The Limey"

INDBrent said...

Yes the piggy in the witchen was inspired!
@Alejandro, Glad you got your wish, Leon: the Professional was an easy pick for me!
@Fernando, Thank you!

La Crona said...

Hi Brent!

In the shotline with Clint Eastwood is a favorite of mine and the second after that is A few good men with Tom Cruise.I recently saw the movie about Facebook and that should climb on many lists.It covers a lot of situations in the internet business even if it specifically deals with the social community.

M. Hufstader said...

I might've had to whack you if Road To Perdition wasn't on that list. I'm no gaga-for-Jude-Law, but his character definitely caught my attention, down to the way he rolled his coins over his knuckles.

Ghost Dog sounds really fucking weird--Forrest Whitaker, Samurai? That might be a stretch of imagination for me, but...well. I do like Whitaker. I might have to look into it.

Overall, great list. Keep 'em coming.

INDBrent said...

@M. Hufstader, agreed Jude Law was remarkable in "Perdition" A fine piece of character work.

As far as Ghost Dog, yeah it is a little weird, but definitely an original and a hit man you haven't seen before.

Thanks for stopping in!