Killing Gunther


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Killing Gunther
"He said he'd be back, and he meant it." | Photo: Saban Films

"I've been almost 50 years in this business," says Arnold Schwarzenegger in a scene near the end of this film, and he could be speaking as legendary hitman Gunther or as himself. It's a film sold on his starring role, and though he doesn't appear until more than halfway through (at least not recognisably), his presence is felt throughout. If you were a fan of the cheesy Arnie classics of the Eighties and early Nineties - everything from The Running Man to Total Recall and True Lies - then you'll love this film. He said he'd be back, and he meant it.

Gunther is the best of the best, a hitman so dominant in his field that others worldwide are in awe of him. Those others include Blake (writer/director Taran Killam), but Blake's admiration has turned into a determination to get to the top himself by killing Gunther - a decision that might also have something to do with the fact that Gunther had a fling with his ex, Lisa (Killam's real life wife Cobie Smulders). To get the job done, he has assembled a team of top assassins and assistants, including explosives expert best friend Donnie (Bobby Moynihan), nerdy computer expert Gabe (Paul Brittain), elderly mentor Ashley (Aubrey Sixto), poisons expert Yong (Aaron Yoo) and skilled shooter Sanaa (Hannah Simone), who is by far the most competent of the bunch but is struggling to carve out a name for herself under the shadow of her famous (and doting) hitman father. Ashley is the first to drop out, collapsing when they're still at the planning stage and having to go into hospital, but Blake is determined to get the job done anyway, and his optimism carries the team forward even after one of them is shot - even after it becomes apparent that Gunther knows what they're up to and is after them.

Copy picture

This film is presented as a documentary. Blake is proud of his work and has hired two filmmakers to record what he is sure will be his triumph. This framing provides an excuse for explanations that wouldn't otherwise make sense, but the film avoids spending too much time on exposition. The documentarians - who occasionally speak or are caught on camera themselves - provde an emotional point of focus as we get to know the others, their presence signalling that it's normal to be in the company of assassins. Killam, showing remarkable skill for a first time director, is true to this format throughout. There are some frankly brilliant sequences in which we move through complex and changing environments without cutting, and other moments when dropped cameras are cleverly positioned and repositioned to justify why we see what we do. Everything here looks casual, fast-paced as it is, but it's skillfully composed.

It's very difficult to get this kind of comedy to work, especially with such a large number of characters involved, but Killam handles it superbly. Although some characters don't get much room to develop, we get a strong sense of who the main ones are. The action sequences are cleverly constructed so that we get a sense of Gunther's acrobatic skill without Arnie himself, at 70, having to take on too much strain. In the lighter action scenes and the comedy scenes he gets, the star doesn't disappoint. This is an age-appropriate version of those beloved Eighties characters, played with a sly wit that doesn't detract from the glorious silliness of the film as a whole. Though Blake is a disaster as a human being, Killam has us rooting from him, and it's to Arnie's credit that, within five minutes, he has us loving Gunther just as much.

Too smart for the 'wacky comedy' box and too outrageously playful to sit alongside standard action fare, Killing Gunther is nevertheless destined to find an audience who will watch it again and again. Just make sure you watch all the way through the credits for the promise of a sequel, a last twist, and Gunther's unforgettable take on country and western.

Killing Gunther will be available to watch on Digital Download from 2nd April and can be accessed here.

Reviewed on: 21 Mar 2018
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A group of eccentric assassins are fed up with Gunther, the world's greatest hitman, and decide to kill him, but their plan turns into a series of bungled encounters as Gunther seems to always be one step ahead.

Director: Taran Killam

Writer: Taran Killam

Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Cobie Smulders, Hannah Simone, Allison Tolman, Taran Killam, Steve Bacic, Aaron Yoo

Year: 2017

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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