Assassin’s Bullet is a halfcocked attempt at a political thriller – a film that not only skimps on the expected action thriller elements but also labors mightily on a profoundly implausible plot and incredibly weak character development. It actually constructs itself around two twists, one the filmmakers didn’t even attempt to keep hidden and another they didn’t attempt to resolve. Apart from the fact that this amounts to an absolute mess of a screenplay, one that clearly wasn’t ready to be shot, this also puts me in a very awkward position. How can I adequately describe a movie that is all spoilers without having to cop out and issue a spoiler warning? I’ve trained myself to give away only that which is essential for good reading and no more; perhaps I was fated to see Assassin’s Bullet, for it would test my worth as a film critic.
Let me start with what I know I can reveal. It takes place in Sofia, Bulgaria. There, we meet a former FBI black ops agent named Robert Diggs (Christian Slater), who’s there essentially to escape the memory of his dead wife. He’s called back into duty at the U.S. Embassy by Ambassador Ashdown (Donald Sutherland), who wants him to track down and identify an unknown vigilante who’s assassinating Islamic terrorists high up on America’s Most Wanted list. This rash of killings could have something to do with a now defunct counterterrorism program called Project Sofia; it seems this assassin not only has access to these high profile targets but can actually wipe them out in a matter of days, something the black ops specialists haven’t been able to do in years. How is this possible?
To be sure, we do see this assassin, albeit in initially vague ways. We know that it’s a woman in an all-black getup, her eyes concealed by sunglasses and her face somewhat obscured by black bangs of hair. I was under the assumption that assassins were supposed to be inconspicuous; given the way her wardrobe makes her look like a cross between a dominatrix and a biker chick, she would never have gotten away with her line of work. To her credit, she’s a skilled sniper, and she can even engage in hand to hand combat if the occasion calls for it. Granted, that’s almost never in this movie. The only scene in which there’s any real action is reserved for the very end, when she fights Diggs with a pipe. She almost never speaks. The only words that pass her lips are, “No witnesses,” which should tell you everything you need to know about her methods.
Two other women enter Diggs’ life, in a manner of speaking. One is a mysterious dancer at the club, who does her act with a scarf and seems to be channeling Mata Hari. Diggs inevitably falls in love with her, and although she seems receptive, there’s also the unmistakable sense that she’s hiding something. The other is Vicky (Elika Portnoy), who teaches English as a second language to teenage students. A damaged woman who regularly suffers from memory gaps and frequent visions of her own traumatic childhood, including the death of her parents, she’s the patient of Dr. Khan (Timothy Spall), an incredibly odd therapist who, rather than take notes during his sessions with Vicky, sketches her instead. He has the tact of a classic James Bond villain, always speaking his dialogue as if he had an ulterior motive for everything. He also happens to be friends with Diggs, and they regularly convene in the club.
And this is where talking about this film starts to get tricky. What I can say is that, for a large portion of the film, the person giving the unknown assassin her assignments isn’t shown; all we see is a man’s hand playing around with a coin and tapping on an iPhone. I can also say that, given what is made all too clear to the audience fairly early on, Diggs is without a doubt the densest black ops agent in the history of the FBI. He’s so dense, in fact, that one wonders how he got accepted in the first place. It can’t possibly be a good sign that the main character, who’s said to be one of the best in his field (the exact word used to describe him is “exemplary”), ends up being the most clueless one of the story. I swear to God, there were times when I wanted to crawl up into the screen and slap some sense into him.
An interesting sidenote: Portnoy not only co-stars but is also given story credit. In Hollywood, whenever someone is given story credit, that typically means that the first draft of the screenplay was seized by other writers and eventually altered to the point of destroying the author’s original vision. Was that the case with Assassin’s Bullet? Did Portnoy pen a screenplay, only for Nancy L. Babine and Hans Feuersinger to take control of it and ultimately receive final credit? That would be the story I’d stick to, if I were her. Not only can we not believe anything we see or hear in this film, but at no point did anyone even try to surprise us with its “twists,” nor did anyone bother to take the story in an original direction. This movie is a sad case. I feel bad that the names Slater, Sutherland, and Spall had to be attached to it.
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