KILL LIST: A Gallery of Hitmen

Hitman movies are one of my favorite genres. I like the moral tension, the conflict between being a part and being apart, the slick suits. So while we wait for the genre-bending  Kill List, tonight, here’s a little list of cinematic gentleman who live off of blood money. Feel free to share some of your favorites.

Citta Violenta / Violent City / The Family (1970) Charles Bronson plays, Jeff Heston, a double-crossed hitman out for revenge. Jill Ireland plays a pretty woman in the clutches of the evil and salacious gangster played by Telly Savalas, with all the leering salaciousness he can muster. There’s a fantastic score by Ennio Morricone. (It serves as my wake up alarm in the morning). And I enjoy how the movie conveys a more European sense of the distance between New Orleans, Louisiana and Michigan.

In The Mechanic (1972), well-established Charles’ Bronson’s professional hitman takes a young upstart–and even full-on whippersnapper,  (played by a cocky as hell Jan Michael Vincent) as his protege. It’s not really a good idea, but it does make for an excellent twist ending.

Golgo 13: Assignment Kowloon (1977) is a live-action version of Takao Saito’s hardboiled manga series. JJ Sonny Chiba plays Duke Togo, a hitman hired by the United States government to eliminate a Hong Kong triad boss. Fans of Etsuko Shiomi/Sue Shiomi will be glad to see her do a little fighting in this film. Features the kind of violence you’d expect from a 1970s Chiba film blended with the coolness of 1970s Hong Kong.

Ostensibly the story of Jeff, a hitman played by Chow Yun-Fat, who’s attempting to right a wrong and find a new life with the young nightclub singer he’s blinded, played by Sally Yeh, The Killer (1989) is just as easily described as a love story between a noble hitman and a sort of corrupt cop (Danny Lee) who each cross the same moral line. There is, however, a helluva lot of shooting, fashionable suits and style to burn. And I’m sure it’s just an accident that the hitman here is named Jeff and is double-crossed by a gangster boss a la The Mechanic.

In Leon: The Professional / The Professional (1994), Jean Reno plays an hitman (“Leon”) who takes in a stray girl after her parents are killed. The is one of Natalie Portman’s earliest roles, and she does a great job as a girl who desperately tries to convince a hired killer to take revenge.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) is a comedy. John Cusack plays Martin Blank, a man who not only has an incredibly Hal Hartley name, but also believes he is conflicted about his life choices. He’s forced a therapist (played by Alan Arkin) into seeing him and decides he needs to go to his high school reunion, conveniently located near a job his been hired to do. Blanks’ interactions with his therapist are revealing in just how frightening a professional hitman would be in real life. Also, for fight fans, Benny “The Jet” Urquidez does some kicking.

Ghost Dog:  The Way of the Samurai (1999) is a Jim Jarmusch movie. It is very quiet, contemplative and conversational as a hitman movie. That is, it is not action-packed (though it is compared to Broken Flowers). Forrest Whitaker plays Ghost Dog, a hitman who’s been trying to understand his profession through the 18th Century manual of bushido, The Hidden Leaves / Hagakure. Unfortunately, its precepts of service, duty and honor get Ghost Dog in trouble with the Mafia.

This post originally appeared in a slightly different form on The Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness Blog.

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