Crapshoot: The Hitman movie that made as much sense as putting a barcode on your head

From 2010 to 2014 Richard Cobbett wrote Crapshoot, a column about rolling the dice to bring random obscure games back into the light. This week, it's the action game conversion that took a hit out on sanity... and we just have to hope the blood money made it worthwhile for someone.

There are worse game-to-film conversions. There aren't many more confusing ones than Hitman, not least because if you ignore the star having a barcode on his head, it's not exactly a difficult series to build a movie around. 

Think Day of the Jackal—to be clear, I mean the original rather than the ghastly Bruce Willis remake. Think Leon. Just don't think the creators assigned to the movie had a single coherent thought while making... whatever this is. Ave Maria? You're 'avin a laugh.

Let's start with the trailer. It's important to note two things: this is not a teaser trailer, as they actually have proper footage. It's also only one of several, none of which could agree on what the story was. One for example proclaims that Agent 47 is "Protected By Divinity" . I have no idea what that means. This one talks about him being raised by "An exiled brotherhood of the church" and a quest to "rid the world of the evil that infects it." I don't think even they know what they meant by that line.

Without wanting to jump ahead too much, let me clarify exactly how much any of that has to do with the actual movie. Nothing. There is no secret brotherhood, there is no holy quest. This is a political thriller about a Russian politician that Agent 47 is hired to shoot. As with the games, he works for an assassination agency, and he will shoot anyone you like in the face, provided you can afford to cover his time and bullets. The agency itself also has exactly no scruples, as will be seen when it inevitably betrays him* in a few paragraphs. So what's all this nonsense about? I have no idea. Maybe Fox feared folks might think their film called "Hitman" was about a guy who kills people for money.

(*This happens a lot. It's definitely in the Top 5 list of reasons not to become an international assassin for hire. The others include the slow but sure degradation of your soul into a miserable pit of nihilistic angst, and the fact that hotel beds often have bedbugs.)

And it gets worse. There's an entire introduction, set of course to Ave Maria, where we're introduced to Agent 47 as a child... kind of... in a facility where bald kids are being tutored and brainwashed and taught to kill. Not only does this have exactly nothing to do with anything that happens later, it's got nothing to do with the game's backstory either. In fact, it's one step further. it has nothing to do with the movie at all, mostly being recoloured footage from an old TV show called Dark Angel with a few quick shots of the Hitman logo in tattoo form here and there, and an ending where an apparently graduating 47 is given his dual-pistols by a monk. It's a weird scene, looking like it was thrown in as a nod to its own trailer rather than a thing the trailer was based on. Which it may in fact be.

None of this will ever, ever be mentioned again, incidentally.

The actual film starts in London, with an Interpol agent called Whittier (played by Dougray Scott) setting up the movie's framing device. He enters his house, only to find Agent 47 waiting for him. 47 is played by Timothy Olyphant, who is a decent actor, but looks too... soft... for 47. 47 is a man of hard edges and few words. Olyphant's 47 looks like a guy who moisturises his barcode tattoo.

"Are you going to kill me?" asks Whittier, purely to let 47 reply—of course—some inevitable variant of "If I wanted to kill you, you'd be dead already." From there, he adds that his decision will be based on Whittier's answer to a simple question: "How does a good man decide when to kill?"

The answer of course is "When someone offers to buy the movie rights to your game."

Snap back to three months earlier, and what would ordinarily be the dumbest line in an entire movie, but in Hitman's case, merely in the top three. A voice who isn't Whittier is briefing... someone... on 47 and his employer, and if that sounds vague, it is. But that's nothing next to the nonsense they're saying. See if you can spot a problem with this dialogue. In fact, see if you can spot ten:

"Rumour is he works for a group known only as The Organisation; so secret that nobody knows it exists."


I shall repeat that:

"Rumour is he works for a group known only as The Organisation; so secret that nobody knows it exists."

This already inane line is then made worse by the exposition continuing to explain that this top secret organisation has ties to every single government in the world, and its sole purpose is the training of professional killers—of whom 47 is of course The Best. That's a hell of an open secret, and one made even sillier when you find out that the Organisation loves nothing more than putting their logo onto their weapons, having tattoos of it, and even putting it onto bombs, and their idea of subtle discretion is having an army of bald hitmen with bright red ties and barcodes on the backs of their heads. To make things extra-confusing, while they're the Organisation in dialogue, they're the ICA (International Contract Agency) on computers and in other mentions. Not. Confusing. At. All. This. Plot. Point. Is.

And also: How the hell does he know it's called The Organisation?!

To clarify things slightly, the movie has essentially mixed two things from the games into one—Agent 47's origin as a genetically engineered clone, and the Agency he went to work for after escaping his creator. The one has nothing to do with the other, and indeed, the other people in the ICA are just regular humans, complete with names. The film's version turns it into a group that recruits orphans and brainwashes them, before having them quite clearly working as freelance agents who get to choose whether or not they accept missions. The two aren't necessarily incompatible plot devices, but the film does nothing to bring them together into a single consistent entity.

Proving this, Whittier struggles to explain to a skeptical... somebody in a uniform in Niger... that he's been chasing Agent 47 for the last three years, and "No motive, no forensic evidence, no witnesses." Yet somehow, he knows that this man specifically is responsible for over 100 deaths, and has even charted them on the wall. From this, we're supposed to induce that Interpol is refusing to listen to his safe advice. What it actually sounds like is that every time there's an unsolved murder, they have to put up with Dougray Scott popping up and going "It's the magic assassin elf! Why won't you believe me?"

Over in St. Petersberg, and the actual movie, Agent 47 is demonstrating his professionalism in a bar by drinking a whiskey and running away from a girl at his hotel bar when she tries to pick him up. We then see his innate professionalism and well-trained paranoia as he hides a gun in the corridor, sprinkles what look like marbles outside his door and wires a beeping explosive device to the inside of his door... and then casually walks out onto a balcony in the middle of night where anyone could take him out from the next city over. The Jackal he is not, even if he is only rigging up an escape rope.

A quick shower later, and flicking through a magazine's tips for talking to women (step one: don't run off and put bombs on your hotel room door), he flips open his laptop to get his mission—taking out the moderate Russian premiere Belicoff in as public and dramatic a manner as possible. Which is exactly the kind of assassination that Agent 47 always did during the games when he wasn't dressing up as a clown.

Still, it's time for that Agent 47 magic. How will he do it? Paint some poison onto a giant stuffed bear's teeth and push it onto the guy? Dress as a waiter and serve him a C4 cutlet? Break into the Kremlin and spend the next week under the floorboards, not moving or sleeping, until the time is right to drop down and gut him as he arrives? Something involving nut allergies and a carefully timed walnut whip?

Nope. He ambles up to the top of a nearby building, not even changing out of his suit, and just shoots the guy in the face with a sniper rifle while he's in the middle of a TV interview. Can't argue with the results, but like the bullets, this is not exactly Agent 47's usual calibre. 

As if there was any doubt as to where the shot came from, he then clarifies his position by packing his kit and his (Organisation-labelled) rifle into a box and blowing it up with an explosion that rains debris down on the nearest few streets. And this is the top secret assassin who leaves no trace and no clue about his presence, eh?

Job done, he heads to the train station in the same outfit he used for the hit, only to be called by his handler Diana on his Organisation branded laptop—seriously, just look at this thing...

...who tells him that there was a witness to the killing. Despite it having happened on film and surrounded by the press, and with the whole point being to do it in public. Diana points him towards a girl called Nika, played by future Bond girl Olga Kurylenko. Here, she's rocking the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo look, and I mean that literally. Not only does she look the part and have an attitude on the far side of the 'feisty' scale, she actually has a dragon tattoo plastered on her cheek.

(In fairness, this is probably a coincidence rather than a deliberate rip. This film did come out the year before the novel's English translation, though a year after the original Swedish edition.)

Except something is wrong. She sees 47 coming, and barely gives him a second look—despite the fact that his apparent plan for dealing with a witness to his last crime was to pull a gun on her in the middle of the street and get another hundred or so people on his trail. 47 has a moment to realise something's up, when suddenly a nearby guy's head explodes and the camera zooms up to a sniper... a sniper with a bald head, a barcode tattoo and the face of a Ben Kingsley impersonator.

What's going on? Only the most hilariously inept cover-up of all time! Dougray Scott's Interpol agent lands, and via phonecall, reports that "Belicoff's head was grazed by a bullet." This is despite him a) having been in public for the assassination and b) that assassination doing this to the (strangely unresponsive, it must be said) guy standing right next to the target.

Having at least a couple of brain-cells, Whittier watches the footage and calls bullshit—though is immediately distracted by a phonecall saying that 47 has been found and they even have a photo of him. Exactly how you're meant to identify someone you've never seen by a photo is left to our mocking imagination, but it's immediately ruined by Whittier's next face-palm worthy line:

"Call the Russian secret service and tell them Interpol has jurisdiction!"

This argument about who's in charge will take up far too many of his scenes, due to one minor—teeny-tiny, even—little problem. Interpol has absolutely no jurisdiction. They're purely a support agency. They run databases of criminals. They pass around files. The whole idea of Interpol 'agents' is a nonsense used only by films that can't even be bothered to do basic research, and Inspector Zenigata of Lupin III. Likewise, the NSA do not in fact have commandos on their payroll, and only US fake numbers are allowed to start with 555. Please stop making these mistakes! Immediately!

Back at his hotel room, 47 is warned by Diana that he won't actually be paid for the Belicoff job because the target is still alive—as proven by his appearance on the news. 47 of course protests, pointing out that the guy's head exploded like a watermelon and demanding to know who the client was so that he can wreak slightly baby-faced vengeance upon someone responsible. When Diana refuses to answer, he tells her "If you set me up, I will find you and I will burn that building to the ground around you." And you know, that would be reasonable, if he wasn't a brainwashed child assassin who grew up in the Agency/Organisation's thrall and has no choice but to do their murderous bidding.

Which reminds me, why are they paying him instead of just covering his expenses anyway?

Cue a remake of the end of Leon, as Interpol and the FSB (secret police) swarm in - led by T-Bag from Prison Break doing that Russian accent all American actors can put on at will. 47 is alerted to them by Diana phoning him up instead of messing around with the computer. "The client was Belicoff," she tells him, as the men outside trigger the explosive charge on the door... and...

So, let's clarify. To protect himself, 47 fitted an explosive charge to his hotel room door that would not merely go off if a maid so much as knocked on it, but explode and fill his entire hotel room with fire and shrapnel. I'm having serious doubts about this guy's Hitman credibility, folks.

Also, look at his head. Someone forgot to shave this week. Tsk.

Escaping by diving out of the window and into a room where two kids are not merely playing a Hitman game, but look up and recognise him, he escapes from the hotel with relatively little difficulty—ending up in the the river. His first act as he realises his cover has been blown, his enemies know who he is, and the agency he works for has betrayed him? To get a replacement suit and red tie, because Style.

With no leads, other than a friendly voice at the Agency/Organisation, 47 tracks down and kidnaps The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by throwing her into a car boot with a corpse. Interrogating her, she confesses to being Belicoff's mistress, but otherwise knows nothing. Except that Belicoff has doubles for security purposes, and it turns out that's who 47 was conned into shooting. 47 then goes from pointing a gun at her head to saying "You're as good as dead without me," and for about the fifteenth time, it's as if everyone looked up and said "Wait, are we sure we're all working from the same script?"

Heading to the train station with Nika, 47 spies another bald man in the waiting lounge, and demonstrates the mistake of tattooing incredibly obvious symbols onto your covert assassins. Chased by his own assassin and Whittier's Interpol agents, he ends up deep in the bowels of the station for what is... quite possibly... the dumbest action scene I have ever seen. Let me break this down.

1. 47 wanders onto a deserted platform, pursued by his rival, dressed in a uniform. The pursuit takes them deep into the facility, where his rival assassin pulls a gun.

2. 47 defeats his rival, shooting him multiple times while asking "Why is there a hit on me?" and then blasting the man's comatose carcass for good measure.

3. Following a noise, 47 wanders onto a train car where not one, not two, but three bald tattooed assassins ambush him, pointing their guns in a menacing way.

4. At each other. Despite 47 being the only target and this not being a Mexican stand-off.

5. 47 says "How about dying with a little dignity?"

What... the... hell is going on? How many script versions were burned through to get to the point where nobody noticed this is a 3-on-1 situation. And why in the blistering name of hell did all four men just happen to have dual-wakizashi on them on the off-chance that someone did the assassin equivalent of telling them they had small penises? This is the most ridiculous thing in the history of film!

Taking all four out with relatively little effort, 47 actively doesn't kill Whittier in a scene thrown in to show the man that his quarry has a sense of morals after all, and he and Nika go on the run in the car that they should clearly have gone on the run with in the first place. But he still makes her ride in the boot, just in case anyone gets the idea that he's become a wuss while developing his hitman's Heart (TM).

What's not really brought up is the obvious question of why Belicoff wanted 47 dead, or why the Organisation was willing to take that hit in the first place. There's no hint that he gives even the faintest crap about Russian politics, and even if he did come forward, who's going to believe him? It makes sense that they'd want to kill Nika, since she was close enough to Belicoff to spot something amiss, but they take a couple of days before they get around to her—while 47 was a top priority target.

This is only a third of the way through the film, and already it's shot itself in the foot about 20 times. It is not this hard to write an action movie about an assassin. There was no need to pass on crucial plot details via a game of Chinese Whispers conducted over a yoghurt-pot and string phone line, with a deaf intermediary on the dark side of the moon. I'm just saying.

At this point, the movie goes so far off the rails that it's not worth point-by-pointing it, because absolutely nothing makes any sense. 47 continues to treat Nika with complete contempt, to the point of throwing a sandwich at her and then reconsidering whether he should shoot her. She responds by saying she can't actually give him a reason not to, and cuts to a spectacularly out-of-place scene that makes that Saints trailer and its latex nuns seem almost respectable. Almost. Or indeed, not.

I'm not sure whether this is in every cut, since I have what's labelled "Extreme Edition", though that seems to be the only one anyone sells. Either way, her flashback consists of her being hung, stark naked, by the wrists in a smoky room full of laughing gangsters, being viciously whipped by Belicoff. The first couple of shots are close-zooms on her face and bare back. Then as if to say "Ah, fuck it," the camera cuts to full-frontal nudity. This will become especially inappropriate in a few scenes, when she's happily walking naked around 47 specifically to make him uncomfortable and put some fan-service into the movie. In response, he eventually stabs her with a syringe full of knock-out juice. Comedy!

Through a series of scenes far too stupid to think about, and forced dialogue like "You know, you're really quite charming when you're not killing people," Agent 47 does a couple of hits for no apparent reason, hooks up with a CIA contact for no apparent reason, and buys Nika a thin, very translucent white dress she wears without a bra for two very prominent reasons. 

Scene after unconnected scene follows, of random murders on 47's side, and Team Interpol working out the bleeding obvious about Belicoff's double on their own time. In a truly bizarre scene, 47 takes out a guy in a restaurant by shooting his guard in the head with a gun, then injecting poison into his actual target's neck. It's one take. Did nobody tell the director that someone had swapped his morning Pop Tart with a bong? It's the only explanation.

Several action scenes follow, including a slow-mo fight where 47 delivers destruction unto many pillows and Desmond from Lost, before returning to St. Petersburg to take out Belicoff's double in the only way he knows how: stupidly convoluted, and pointless considering that as an international assassin, he really has no need to clear his name.

Sure, he might not take the rap for this, but it's not like he's not a) wanted for about 100 other murders and b) didn't shoot the real Belicoff in the first place. If anything, his beef should be with the Agency/Organisation, who are still accepting money to hunt him down.

In this, he's perfectly matched with Belicoff, who himself declares his disappointment about 47's continued breathing with the quite baffling line "The only man who can expose us is the one man not in this room!" Despite the Agency/Organisation/Whatever having the paperwork that he organised the hit in the first place and being far more likely to abuse this knowledge for their own political gain than 47 himself, who at no point in this movie has come close to giving a shit about the conspiracy.

Really, at this point, the only question is which of the two least deserve victory.

Personally, I'm voting for 47, because he really should know better than to pull stuff like this:

Killing Belicoff's actual brother so that Fake Belicoff has to go to his funeral, 47 sets up a masterplan so devious that absolutely everyone immediately realises what it is because they are not entirely brainless. The details consist of tying an FSB man in a bathtub with barbed wire, then more carefully wiring him up to the mains unless he orders a hit on Belicoff at a specific time. Meanwhile, the Russians prepare for the attack by filling the cathedral where the funeral is going to take place—as covered by a very stern looking Russian... military type... I feel the strange urge to punch.

Weird. What is it about this guy that seems so familiar?

Ah, hell, it's Lance Boyle, isn't it?

Oddly, nobody considers the possibility that 47 might just find a high building and shoot Belicoff through the head like last time—as demonstrated when he indeed watches the man entering the church via a sniper scope, despite having set up another guy to organise a sniper to THIS MOVIE'S STUPIDITY MAKES MY HEAD HURT AND I WANT TO PUT MY COPY INTO A MICROWAVE.

The sniper attack failing, the Russians pacify the terrified civilians by... locking the doors and throwing gas grenades into the crowd, while 47 disguises himself as a soldier and guns down everyone except the fake Belicoff with a machine-gun. Sternly, he drags the fake into a library, where a bald assassin monk is magically waiting to have one last go at killing him. 47 bites his ear off. As you do.

And then it's time to face off with Belicoff. As with the rest of the film, I suspect a few script pages may have ended up out of order, because the grand denouement goes like this:

47: "Who are you? Answer me."

Belicoff: "Let me help you."

47: How would you do that? By having me killed?

Belicoff: No. For that, I am sorry, it was a mistake.

47: And Nika? Was that a mistake, or did you destroy her life for your own amusement?

Belicoff: What?! Do you think you can take what has cost millions, years of planning, for the good of this country and destroy that? Then what? Walk away? You don't think they'll let you do that. If you kill me, they will never let you go. They will hunt you for the rest of your life!

My head continues to hurt. It gets worse when an increasingly bellicose Belicoff offers 47 his life back, as if that's even a possibility at this point, and 47 guns him down without bothering to get a confession, or anything else that might be vaguely useful. Then a helicopter gunship appears and fills the room with bullets. Despite everyone outside knowing that 47 has Belicoff with him. It then flies away without bothering to check whether the job is done, and 47 takes a moment for a nice sit-down.

Interpol arrives with an arrest warrant to escort 47 past the guards even he has no realistic way of fighting through... apparently... and put him in a van for transport. At which point two cars appear out of nowhere and an army of men in black from the CIA come to collect him. Hilariously, Interpol protests on the grounds that the CIA doesn't have jurisdiction. And in the confusion, 47 unsurprisingly vanishes.

And that's it... except for the minor matter of ending the utterly pointless framing story back at Whittier's house. Having stared at the Interpol man for the best part of an hour, 47 repeats his question:

"Are you a good man, Inspector? How does a good man decide when to kill?"

At this point, Whittier is too smart to say: "I don't know. When faced with a career assassin who actually did the job put in front of him not once but twice, who has shown no discernible remorse for the fact, personally gunned down armies of guards whose sole crime was being conned by their leaders despite having had the ability to end this with a single sniper bullet from a distance, and whose actions have contributed nothing to the world save explosions and some variably cheerful nude scenes from a future Bond girl to save horny internet geeks some time with Photoshop?"

And you can't blame him for that. Instead, he responds with the rather more politically minded...

"If I think that a man means to do me or my family harm, then I will do whatever I can to stop him, but beyond that.... it's a crap shoot."

That it is, Inspector Zenigata. And that it was.

But mostly, it was just a crap movie. Or to be more accurate, five crap movies, thrown in a blender and mixed into an absolute bloody mess. It's especially notable that while a few things are resolved by the end, including Whittier getting another assassin's corpse to hand in as 47, and Nika being given a vineyard as a present based on an extremely boring conversation earlier in the movie, 47 himself remains out of sorts with the Agency, still marked for death, and personally implicated in the assassination of a high-ranking Russian political figure not simply once, but twice. Still, yay, right? Right?

There were plans for a sequel, which might even have made some sense, but it was never to be and I don't think many tears were shed over that. Luckily, this confused mess marked an end to the bad movie trade. The next time a 'realistic' game was converted into something Hollywood friendly, it was with style, aplomb, and a true understanding of the gaming contributions of..., wait. It was Max Payne. My mistake. But I think we'll save that disaster for another week.