Hitman’s Bodyguard – Triple-A-Rated Action Goodness

(Caution – mild spoil­ers ahead!)

As my sig­nif­i­cant oth­er and I walked out of the the­ater, with my eyes and my smile wide, both of us gush­ing with praise for the movie we’d just seen, I stopped at one point and mused out loud: “I hope oth­er peo­ple liked that as much as we did.”

It turns out, as I dis­cov­ered check­ing the rat­ings on my phone on the way back to our car, that they did en­joy it – as long as they weren’t a crit­ic. The Hitman’s Bodyguard did quite well among au­di­ences, but in many cas­es, it earned less than (con­vert­ed) 50% from the big-name reviewers.

Does every movie have to be a ground­break­ing work of art? What’s so wrong with a movie that’s a sol­id, en­ter­tain­ing piece that re­lies on the tropes of its genre with­out overus­ing them (or lamp­shad­ing them to off­set their ef­fect)? What is wrong with that?!

As Samuel L. Jackson’s char­ac­ter tells his wife ear­ly in the movie: “Not a thing, baby.”

The Hitman’s Bodyguard is an action-comedy film star­ring Ryan Reynolds as the straight man, and Jackson’s char­ac­ter as the chaot­ic. It reads like a buddy-cop movie, only nei­ther is a cop – Michael Bryce (Reynolds) and Darius Kincaid (Jackson) are a for­mer pro­fes­sion­al body­guard and an in­car­cer­at­ed hit­man, re­spec­tive­ly. Kincaid is called upon to tes­ti­fy as a wit­ness at the International Criminal Court, and his trans­port to the Hague is arranged through Interpol; but when it be­comes (ex­plo­sive­ly!) clear that Interpol has been com­pro­mised, Bryce is called upon as an only-hope last re­sort to get Kincaid from Britain to Holland… if Bryce doesn’t kill Kincaid first, that is.

Complicating mat­ters – and in fact, the source of Bryce’s, shall we say, an­noy­ance with Kincaid – is that Kincaid is con­vinced that he him­self is the only per­son com­pe­tent enough to get him­self to the ICC in the time re­main­ing, and con­stant­ly tries to shake off Bryce for the first half of the movie. Kincaid has no in­ter­est in flee­ing his own jus­tice – in re­turn for his tes­ti­mo­ny, his wife, who he loves un­ques­tion­ably, will be al­lowed to walk free. And in Kincaid’s de­fense, he does prove far more able than even the “highly-trained” guards ini­tial­ly as­signed to him; as his wife Sonia, played by Salma Hayek, puts it, he is like a cu­caracha – a cock­roach, nigh im­pos­si­ble to kill. 

But Kincaid is up against a lot more than he bar­gained for – name­ly, the for­mer Eastern European dic­ta­tor who he would tes­ti­fy against, and the dozens of heavily-armed men he’s se­cret­ly com­mand­ing. It’s go­ing to take Kincaid learn­ing from Bryce’s knowl­edge and care­ful plan­ning, and Bryce learn­ing from Kincaid’s off-the-cuff beat-them-to-the-punch law­less­ness, if ei­ther one is go­ing to make it out of their jour­ney alive.

Tropes are not bad if done taste­ful­ly, and while this movie cer­tain­ly uses tropes, it weaves them to­geth­er to cre­ate a splen­did­ly fun work nonethe­less. Though I dis­agree with the crit­ics, I can un­der­stand why they would rate “clich­es” poor­ly; giv­en the sheer num­ber of movies they must watch, they tru­ly have seen it all al­ready, and are thus eas­i­ly bored by any movie that doesn’t great­ly chal­lenge them. But for the av­er­age Joe who doesn’t see every sin­gle movie ever, tropes not only don’t get in the way, but can in fact be en­joy­able, at min­i­mum by es­sen­tial­ly flag­ging a film as be­ing of a fa­vored genre. The only ex­cep­tion to the lat­ter is if a trope is overused, but this can usu­al­ly be ex­cused by hang­ing an ap­pro­pri­ate lamp­shade. (See: lat­er in the movie, re­gard­ing Kincaid’s vo­cab­u­lary, Bryce com­ments to a ran­dom bar­tender that “this guy has single-handedly ru­ined the word ‘moth­er­fuck­er’ for me”.) Other than that one catch­phrase, The Hitman’s Bodyguard does a nice job of tak­ing very old well-known ac­tion tropes and putting them in a bit of a new light; enough to high­light the plot, with­out beat­ing us over the head with them.

The main trope that keeps this plot mov­ing is the per­son­al­i­ty clash be­tween the two leads – but the ban­ter is so bril­liant that one could care less if it’s been done be­fore. The chem­istry be­tween Reynolds and Jackson is sim­ply ex­cel­lent – they play so well off of one an­oth­er, and the barbs be­ing thrown at every turn had us rolling in laugh­ter in our the­ater seats. Both of the ac­tors’ char­ac­ters def­i­nite­ly have their own abra­sive charms be­fore they meet, that could each car­ry a film on their own – but things pick up beau­ti­ful­ly when the two char­ac­ters have their first on-screen meet­ing (at which point it be­comes clear from their ini­tial, vi­o­lent re­ac­tions, that the char­ac­ters al­ready have past his­to­ry…). From that point for­ward, the mud-slinging both ac­cel­er­ates and crescen­dos as Kincaid and Bryce con­stant­ly at­tempt to prove their points over the oth­er through­out their per­ilous mission.

The act­ing by both men is ex­cel­lent as well. If your only pri­or ex­pe­ri­ence with Ryan Reynolds is as the de­ranged char­ac­ter of Deadpool, then you may not ex­pect him to ex­cel at play­ing the straight man in the equa­tion here – and not only the straight, but a lov­able, by-the-book has-been be­sides. Reynolds, how­ev­er, shines in this role; his emot­ing from Bryce’s ear­li­er top-of-his-game days to all of Bryce’s char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment is re­al­ly be­liev­able, and makes us re­al­ly root for the character.

But if Reynolds shines, then Samuel L. Jackson pos­i­tive­ly glows in his role as Darius Kincaid – a man who seems to be de­prived of morals, and yet may be the most moral­is­tic per­son in the movie. (Not to men­tion that Jackson him­self wrote the song he sings in the car to Bryce – “Nobody Gets Out Alive”!) Kincaid comes across as one who has reached a cer­tain form of en­light­en­ment – he has no qualms be­ing vi­o­lent but, as we dis­cov­er, it’s only to those who de­serve it. Even so, both men have lessons to learn from the oth­er; each re­al­izes that the oth­er has good ideas, and comes to re­spect and ap­pre­ci­ate each other’s points of view. Amidst all the vi­o­lence and bod­ies, watch­ing Reynolds and Jackson por­tray their de­vel­op­ing char­ac­ters is a treat.

The oth­er roles in this film are great, but none near­ly as spec­tac­u­lar as Salma Hayek’s Sonia Kincade. I loved her. Her dra­mat­ics, take-no-shit at­ti­tude, sexy vi­o­lence, and foul Spanish mouth are fan­tas­tic, even if you’re not a his­panoh­ab­lante like my­self. She adds a whole new lay­er to the movie all by her lone­some. It’s over­whelm­ing­ly clear why Darius Kincade loves his wife so much.

Gary Oldman’s Vladislav Dukhovich is al­right; clas­sic genocidal-dictator vil­lainy in a Russian ac­cent, done well enough. Relative-newbie Élodie Yung plays Interpol agent Amelia Roussel, who also hap­pens to be Bryce’s love in­ter­est; her role is not very large but quite well-acted, and I’ll def­i­nite­ly be keep­ing an eye out for her in the fu­ture. The Interpol mole Jean Foucher, played by Joaquim de Almeida, is ap­pro­pri­ate­ly shady and smarmy – enough that, if you know the tropes, you’ll be able to pick him out as the leak­er straight away.

Another thing this film tru­ly ex­cels at is the sprin­kling of de­tails through­out. A good ac­tion movie does not for­get a sin­gle de­tail, and this one is no dif­fer­ent, from the wounds suf­fered by the char­ac­ters in the movie com­ing back for the en­tire length of the film (Foucher’s hand be­gins to bleed again in his fight with Roussel, and Kincaid is still limp­ing even as he cor­ners Dukhovich!), to hid­den vi­su­al clues which cer­tain folks will love to spy. Sharp-eyed au­di­ence mem­bers will de­light in not­ing sev­er­al con­nec­tions with Kincaid’s ravens tat­too, and even sharper-eyed view­ers might spot the name­sake of that bar in Honduras. On this note, I have to give The Hitman’s Bodyguard spe­cial commendation.

As far as the ac­tion goes – it’s noth­ing re­al­ly new, for sure; but I got­ta say… it’s bet­ter than Deadpool. (Gasp! I know.) This is the part of the movie that the big re­view­ers took off the most points for. We’ve all seen car shootout-chases be­fore; we’ve al­ready seen car bombs dis­rupt­ing armored-car mo­tor­cades; we’ve cer­tain­ly seen one guy dis­arm­ing an­oth­er of his gun via gra­tu­itous hand com­bat… and al­most all of the oth­er ac­tion sce­nar­ios por­trayed herein. 

But – big “but” here: it… is… still… breath­tak­ing! There’s plen­ty of “wow” mo­ments to keep us en­ter­tained, from rid­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle on the bleed­ing edge of a canal in Amsterdam, to Reynolds hav­ing to use im­pro­vised weapons and en­vi­ron­ments to take down the Russian-squawking bad­dies com­ing af­ter him (a rolling pin and a hot grill in a restau­rant; and an axe, nail gun, and roll-of-chain noose in what looks to be a hard­ware store). Despite a lack of ac­tion in­ge­nu­ity, none of it man­ages to come across as mo­not­o­nous – and that is the key part of the ac­tion here. It even stands up to a sec­ond view­ing, and to hav­ing seen an­oth­er well-executed ac­tion movie im­me­di­ate­ly be­fore. It may not do any­thing nov­el, but it is ex­treme­ly grat­i­fy­ing, and that is ul­ti­mate­ly what matters.

Other non-groundbreaking, yet-satisfactory el­e­ments: the vi­su­als are love­ly and fit­ting enough to give some pol­ish, while stay­ing in the back­ground and not tak­ing the spot­light from the com­e­dy. Among all of the sweep­ing ur­ban aeri­als, the one chase scene set against the gor­geous back­drop of Amsterdam is par­tic­u­lar­ly thrilling. The mu­sic fits the bill, too – typ­i­cal jazzy cop scor­ing could have been cloned straight from the port­fo­lio of Atli Örvarsson, who has pro­vid­ed mu­sic for Law & Order: Los Angeles, Chicago P.D., and Chicago Fire.

Some say that there was a lot more than could have philo­soph­i­cal­ly been ex­plored with this film, or even that no ex­plo­ration was done at all. I’d ar­gue that this film did just enough. While Kincaid giv­ing Bryce (le­git­i­mate, even in real life) ad­vice on how to win back Roussel isn’t ex­act­ly stim­u­lat­ing, he does make the very valid point that all of the so-called ex­cit­ing things he does “don’t mean shit if I can’t tell Sonia about it!”. Even more poignant, how­ev­er, is the oth­er philo­soph­i­cal ques­tion he asks of Bryce: which is worse, “he who kills evil moth­er­fuck­ers, or he who pro­tects them?”  This clas­sic de­bate doesn’t get a whole lot of at­ten­tion in the fol­low­ing scene, but in some ways, ask­ing it is just enough – and it does get Bryce to mo­men­tar­i­ly re­con­sid­er his mo­tives. A sim­i­lar thing hap­pens to Kincaid when Bryce re­frames his past killing of Kincaid’s ap­pren­tice as sim­ply “pro­tect­ing my client”.

Another in­ter­est­ing as­pect is the un­spo­ken (or, it is, but once, and briefly) moral com­par­i­son be­tween Kincaid, Bryce, and the dic­ta­tor Dukhovich. Bryce pro­tects peo­ple, who pay him great­ly to do so, in de­lib­er­ate ig­no­rance of whether his clients are good or bad peo­ple; Kincaid is paid for his work as well, but only takes a job if he agrees that the client was wronged and the mark de­serves pun­ish­ment. Dukhovich, in con­trast to both of these men, is an ego­ma­ni­ac, un­re­pen­tant and cold-blooded, who has killed thou­sands if not mil­lions in or­der to en­force con­trol over the coun­try he once ruled. Given that the orig­i­nal script was first writ­ten as a dra­ma and not as a com­e­dy, it seems pos­si­ble that this facet was more thor­ough­ly ex­plored in its ini­tial form; but the com­e­dy was clear­ly spot­light­ed in­stead. The film is still not de­void of phi­los­o­phy – though of course, it could cer­tain­ly have done more.

But in spite of this, The Hitman’s Bodyguard is a very sat­is­fy­ing film that I would high­ly rec­om­mend when you just need some good old fun. This work doesn’t pre­tend to be any­thing it isn’t; it was meant to be a crowd-pleaser, and like the two main char­ac­ters, in the end, they do their job.

Recommended at full tick­et price if: You en­joy wit­ty ac­tion set pieces and are a fan of the billed cast.

Recommended buy on disc or stream­ing if: You don’t care about the cast­ing, would only watch an ac­tion trope movie once

Pass if: You are a fan of more cere­bral fare, or are bored of ac­tion movies at the moment.

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