2 days ago
Friday, April 7, 2017
Oh I almost forgot -- Giorgio Moroder did the themes for the film but I wish he did the whole score because was he getting into some mad synth-ing, baby!
Walter Hill is my dude, and if you've read this blog for a long time, you already know this. But in case you didn't, well, Walter Hill is my dude.
And so, you bet I was going to make it to the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica for the Los Angeles premiere of his latest film, The Assignment, not to be confused with the 1997 film The Assignment, which only shares the similarities of having a nutty premise and being good times. Mr. Hill would be in attendance for a Q&A following the film. (I found out later that Michael Mann was also there but left before the Q&A. The presence of both manly man filmmakers in such close proximity would explain why my voice is now deeper, there's more hair on my chest and my testicles appeared to have gotten bigger.)
As for the film: Masculine/feminine actress Michelle Rodriguez is perfectly cast as femme-y macho hitman Frank Kitchen, who one day wakes up to find herself plus tits and minus penis because one of his marks was the brother of a brilliant-but-mad doctor played by Sigourney Weaver. At this point in my life, I think I'd be fine giving up the dong if it meant I would wake up looking like Michelle Rodriguez. It's not like I've been using said D to its full potential. Besides, I already have the tits, so it's like I'm halfway there.
It's very much a Walter Hill joint in that it's a fast and simple tale, a painting told in broad strokes of primary colors. It doesn't try to pass itself off as anything more than purely B-movie. There are occasional uses of comic book framing similar to what Hill did to his director's cut of The Warriors, which didn't bother me at all, because this is a brand new movie with an established style rather than a classic that we all loved just the way it was. It also shares a similarity with his other works by featuring a hero who speaks in few words going up against a villain who speaks in many words (who much like Bruce Dern's character in The Driver, just wants to let others know how smart she is.)
Rodriguez acquits herself well in the role. Her portrayal of Frank Kitchen isn't so much a stoic badass as more of a person who prefers to keep his distance in all endeavors due to...what? I don't know. Hill has never been one to give a shit about someone's backstory, preferring to let the actions of the character speak for themselves. And it works here.
When Kitchen picks up a girl for some late-night banging, his post-coital dismissal of her is less of a "love 'em and leave 'em" type of vibe and more like someone who's been hurt before and prefers not to let that happen ever again. There's a hint of vulnerability to everything Rodriguez does in the film, but just a hint. I mean, Kitchen still is quick with the steel and not one to cross.
And yet, that's what Sigourney Weaver's character does. And man, as much as I liked Rodriguez in this film, it's Weaver's performance that I was most impressed with. She's nuts, this lady (her character, I mean -- I wouldn't know about Ms. Weaver's mental stability) but it's not a raving loon kind of crazy, or even a creepy Hannibal Lector kind of crazy.
For the most part, she speaks in a rational manner that would lull you into thinking she's fine, then you would ask her about the many homeless people she experimented on and she would respond in a calm and rational manner what basically amounts to "Well of course, why wouldn't I use homeless people to perform my horrific experiments on?" and her tone might change a bit to annoyance because you're so stupid and your small brain would never be able to comprehend the greatness she hopes to achieve. She's not chewing up the scenery, but you just fucking know Weaver is having a ball playing this character.
In comparison to other Walter Hill movies, The Assignment isn't a slam-bang actioner like Extreme Prejudice or a stylish neo-noir like The Driver; this felt to me more like a 90-minute version of one of Hill's "Tales from the Crypt" episodes, albeit one with a shootout every once in a while. If you're not familiar with his directorial contributions to that series, they weren't really horror hikes but instead a swim in the waters of Lurid and Pulpy As Fuck. So imagine my delightful surprise when Hill said during the post-film Q&A that his approach to this film was to make a "king-sized Tales from the Crypt episode". Me and Walter Hill are in sync, brother!
Speaking of that Q&A, it started off fine with the interviewer having a reasonable discussion with Hill, then the dreaded words "let's open it up to the audience for questions" were spoken and therefore caused my usual Pavlovian response of clenching shut both my eyelids and asshole.
An elderly gentleman started by asking why Hill didn't allow Weaver's garrulous character to complete a quote from Aristotle's Poetics, to which Hill responded "You're complaining that she didn't talk enough in the movie?" and then the elderly man asked Walter Hill -- who had earlier discussed reading EC Comics as child -- if he was familiar with the old EC Comics and then he asked Walter Hill -- who had produced the "Tales from the Crypt" HBO series and said ten minutes ago that he had basically made a feature-length Crypt episode with The Assignment -- if he was familiar with a series of comic books called "Tales from the Crypt" and I was too busy digging through the carpet and concrete below me with my fingernails to remember if Hill even answered him.
Hill also told a story about how he went to Michelle Rodriguez shortly before filming began and said something like "In case you haven't noticed, you're Latina. So maybe we should change the name of Frank Kitchen to something Latino" and her response was something like "No, why would I do that? Of course his name isn't really Frank Kitchen, he's always in disguise and uses a false name. It would make it easier for cops to find me if they knew I was Latino" and Hill laughed as he told us that he felt humiliated -- here was the writer/director being schooled on his own creation by the actor. But basically his point was that he doesn't like to do too much discussion about the characters with the actors, feeling that if the actor does his or her job right they would know the character better than anybody else.
Later, Hill discussed the controversy about the film being seen as transphobic. He first cleared the air by saying that things have definitely changed since he was young, and that we are living in an increasingly gender-fluid society, which he feels is a good thing. Hill went on to say that this wasn't meant to be a transphobic film; for one, Frank Kitchen isn't trans -- he identifies as male throughout the entire film, regardless of the forced genital reassignment surgery given to him. This is also why they didn't cast a trans actor, even though that was considered earlier in production -- well, that and the simple issue of the financier who would only invest money in the film if a name actor starred in the project.
I have to agree with Hill; the film doesn't treat being turned into a woman as the A Fate Worse Than Death. Hell, even Mad Scientist Weaver says in the film that she didn't mean it to be some kind of absolute punishment, but more of a second chance for Kitchen to start over by removing him from the "macho prison" she believed he was living in. In response, Rodriguez's vengeance mantra is simply a matter of: I Didn't Ask For This, You Forced It On Me, Now You're Going To Pay.
The worst of it is when Kitchen wakes up and finds himself sans johnson; he screams and smashes some stuff, which I completely understand. I mean, unless you're me, you'd probably freak out too if you woke up with the complete opposite of the usual genital situation you've been accustomed to all your life. And that's about it for the freak-out stuff; there's no monologues that follow about being cursed to live as a female from now on. At most, there's a scene where Kitchen visits a surgeon and asks about the possibility of getting the procedure reversed, and a moment where he bitches about having to sit down to pee.
So I don't feel the film is transphobic, but then again, I'm not transgender, so what do I know? I don't like my non-Latino brothers and sisters to assume they know how I feel, so I sure as shit ain't gonna do it to my alt-gender peeps out in that cold, hard world.
What I do know for sure is that this was a good-not-great entry in the Walter Hill canon for me -- one that is mostly surface but what an entertaining surface! -- and that I'm gonna run for the hills the next time a moderator asks for questions from the audience.
In conclusion, The Assignment (2016) would make a good double feature with The Assignment (1997).