Hitman: Agent 47


Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

Hitman: Agent 47
"Rupert Friend plays Agent 47, managing to imbue him with a restrained and economical ferocity, until he opens his mouth and ruins the trick."

Videogames are often seen as the childish sibling of movies, a logical extension of the moving image, the interactive image. Just as many didn’t see film as an art form but as a commercial venture to be bled dry, games are often seen as an industry incapable of producing anything of merit - indeed, critical luminaries such as Roger Ebert condemned them as pale imitators and inferior art forms altogether. Justifying the interactive medium of games is an argument for a different time, but being aware of games and their current grasp for legitimacy is an important thing to be aware of when considering films based on gaming properties.

Hitman: Agent 47 is based on the popular Hitman games which see players take the role of Agent 47 and lets them plan out freeform assassinations in worlds that act as giant puzzles. The player is required to use stealth, disguises, equipment and non-lethal or lethal force to progress, with the goal of becoming a ‘silent assassin’ gliding through unseen, and only killing the contracted target. Such a flexible system translates poorly to film, but it at least sets the foundations for a wealth of scriptwriting directions, for set pieces and events that can attempt to thrill and awe as much as those in the digital progenitor.

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Instead of capitalising on this, director Aleksander Bach and writer Skip Woods cash it all in for a weak action film that manages to make its flesh and blood actors feel more lifeless and cliched than the muted polygonal cipher of the source material. Rupert Friend plays Agent 47, managing to imbue him with a restrained and economical ferocity, until he opens his mouth and ruins the trick. It’s largely the script's fault, which requires he deliver pithy Bond-style remarks despite being characterised completely at odds with such limp sass. The only remnants of the games’ ideas are the allusions to the Agent program and a few shots that mimic promotional material for various entries into the series.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a kernel of a good idea here. In the beginning he’s pitted against Zachary Quinto’s ‘John Smith’ - another agent who is attempting to project Katai (Hannah Ware) from 47. The change of perspective from the games, pitting 47 as the shadowy unstoppable agent, starts out as a tantalisingly interesting concept, and chimes well with player experiences. Sadly it’s ditched early and the plot does a 180, swapping protagonist and antagonist with little finesse, and keeping Katia as a macguffin to be boxed around.

The script frequently operates on straight-to-DVD levels of clunkiness and poor timing, yet is expected to be delivered with utter sincerity, which causes the whole affair to teeter on the brink of comedy. Bourne-style human super weapons don’t work unless they are fleshed out, empathetic characters with motive beyond killing. As power fantasies in a game, they’re fine, and nuance and finesse finds its way into those stories through the injection of agency, but here poor writing and direction leave all of the main roles interchangeable.

Hannah Ware gets short shrift as the woman who has links to those responsible for the Agent Program, and she undergoes a compelling arc as she transforms from human macguffin to yet another super soldier, which allows them to shoehorn in a few extra scenes of silly precognition and overwrought and choppily edited action. There’s little kinetic or fresh here, with budget CG ruining any sense of weight or impact, which is further hampered with by a total lack of tension. Many fights and chases don’t seem to make any sense, and only exist to let 47 do something utterly out of keeping with his modus operandii, which should be silent assassin.

Games allow for depth through agency and world building, and even the most basic of plots can be elevated by the discrete stories a player can weave through their actions. Adaptations that forgo interesting twists, such as the reframing that occurs within the first act of this film, only serve to undermine the potential for games and films to work in synergy. A few nods and winks to the idea of experiencing the real world as a game, and some nicely captured scenes that capitalise on the sharp contrasting reds, blacks and whites of 47’s world might appeal to the kind of people who have at some point in their lives considered getting a barcode tattooed on the back of their head like their enigmatic hero, but in reality even they will reconsider after the plot attempts its last few baffling and pointless twists. Hopefully 47’s next contract will occur in a game, because he isn’t coping too well on celluloid.

Reviewed on: 25 Aug 2015
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Hitman: Agent 47 packshot
A genetically engineered assassin tries to help a mysterious woman find her father.
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Director: Aleksander Bach

Writer: Skip Woods, Michael Finch

Starring: Rupert Friend, Hannah Ware, Zachary Quinto, Michael Corcoran

Year: 2015

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Germany, US


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