It is well documented that video game conversions into film have generally been pretty unsuccessful. Most critics write them off as pandering to a lesser art, and audiences tend to vote with their feet. Dismal box office returns – Lara Croft: Tomb Raider took US$131 million domestically and is the highest grossing film of its kind, streets ahead of others like Resident Evil (US$40mil), Doom (US$28mil) and House of the Dead (US$10mil) – mean that each new adaptation that fails adds to the general consensus. It is very easy to dismiss a new conversion as a cheap attempt to cash in on an established product line, and to do so would be a disservice to Hitman – Xavier Gens’ film is better than that.
Timothy Olyphant is Agent 47, revealed in an opening montage to have been raised specifically for his task. He is calm, calculating and skilled, and the audience rapidly discovers exactly how. When a hit on moderate Russian President Mikhail Belicoff somehow goes wrong, he is targeted by operatives of his own mysterious ‘Agency’ and forced to cooperate with a young prostitute (Olga Kurylenko as Nika Boronina) who will lead him to question the life he has decided upon.
Hitman features several excellent fight sequences, and if you’re a fan of espionage action/thrillers it could be great fun indeed. Booby traps, thrilling escapes and silent but bloody deaths account for much of the early action, and lay a great foundation. Slowing down a little to allow exposition may lose some viewers – particularly those used to skipping cut scenes in video games – and here Hitman begins to lose its way. Eventually seeming like a contortionist act as it tries to out-trick even the smartest of the audience, it falls into the trap of so many other action films of recent years. Audiences have become more savvy over time, but the constant imperative to make the ending a surprise is becoming tired.
Hitman’s script is generally average, but with some horrific moments that have to be heard to be believed. Handheld camera is used without feeling excessive (for once), and sound design is effective. Olyphant certainly looks the part, but Kurylenko seems to have been dressed by the same costume designer who clothes Russian prostitutes in all action films set in Eastern Europe.
Hitman frequently loses its way, but the enigmatic Olyphant is easy to watch as the title character, and several set pieces are designed to thrill. It is hard to think, however, that it will do anything but add to the consensus opinion about video game adaptations for the screen.Rating: