If they were to accurately title The Hitman’s Bodyguard, it would actually be called The Hitman and His Bodyguard. By making the title possessive, as they do, you would assume the focus of the film would be on bodyguard as opposed to the hitman, and though the bodyguard does have the stronger character arc, director Patrick Hughes tends to steer focus away from Ryan Reynolds’ Michael Bryce (aka the bodyguard) and onto Samuel L. Jackson’s Darius Kincaid (aka the hitman). It makes sense; Kincaid is the funner character, and this is a buddy action comedy reminiscent of eighties action comedies (a little Lethal Weapon meets Midnight Run), so by keeping the two characters equals in the title would have given a better sense of the film from the get-go.
Bryce is a AAA protection agent (as he likes to put it) with Interpol who in the opening minutes of the film loses one of his protection details to a long-range sniper. This event puts him into a tailspin, leading to the loss of his job and his girlfriend, fellow Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung). Two years later, Bryce has taken up a solo career in protective detail, targeting low-class clients that don’t mean a whole lot to the world at large. He’s a simple man of precaution, making sure his jobs run smooth, quiet and without incident. It’s why he’s never been shot or had to kill anyone unnecessarily.
Kincaid is a high-profile hitman with over two hundred kills to his name. After he and his wife, Sonia (Salma Hayek) are caught in a sting operation, he’s offered a deal: testify in the trial of a psychopathic world leader named Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) and Sonia will be completely pardoned. Kincaid agrees, but as is the case with film’s like this, there’s a mole somewhere in Interpol who’s working with Dukhovich to silence Kincaid so he’ll walk free. When Kincaid’s transport is attacked, Amelia calls in a favor from Bryce to get her prisoner to the trial in less than 24 hours. It’s not quite as easy as that, as not only will Dukhovich’s crew continue to hunt them down, but Bryce and Kincaid have a bad history with one another that they will have to put aside in order to make it to the hearing alive.
As mentioned at the top, Bryce learns several life lessons throughout his ordeal with Kincaid, but Jackson is treated like the star, with Reynolds pulling up second banana. However, that’s why the whole thing works. This odd dynamic heightens the characters and their personalities. Reynolds plays Bryce as a despondent nobody who is so pessimistic about everything, it showcases his vulnerability. He blames himself for the murder of his client because he believes Amelia leaked the name to whomever killed him. This loss of a world he so cherished has hardened Bryce’s soul, making himself as inconsequential as he perceives himself.
On the flip side, Kincaid knows exactly who he is. Jackson adds flair and humor to the character by imbuing him with the most carefree of attitudes, one where he doesn’t care one iota for what happens to him, so long as the person he cares for is safe and protected. Under the hard, don’t-give-a flip exterior is a soft soul, one who won’t ever compromise when it comes to harming innocent people. His belief that he himself is the hero (Who is more evil? The one who kills, or the one who protects the killer?) fills him with a self-righteous power that allows him to get away with being a free spirit. Nothing can touch him because he does such good for the world, and life will do what it must. Just go with the flow and stop fighting what’s being dished out.
These two contradictory personalities take advantage of the other’s insecurities and traits. Though the majority of what happens throughout the movie is eye-rolling cartoonish, the two leads know that nothing ever said the film was going to be serious, and utilize that idea to raise the comedic ante in every scene, even as Hughes at times tends to hold back just a little. When Kincaid leaps off a building to crash and fall into a dumpster across the street, or when Bryce goes flying through a windshield, Hughes is setting up a certain vibe for the film, telegraphing a sense of lunacy that he doesn’t quite follow-up on in every frame.
Not that he has to. There are moments of downtime for character development meant to give some heart to the film, but when we get into those action sequences and not everything is as absurd as everything that comes before, the balance of the film feels slightly off. It’s almost as if production was winding down and they just needed to get the shoot over with. Even then, it’s still capable of providing a lot of inconsequential fun.
And part of that fun is found in the supporting cast. Though most of them seem a little sidelined, not getting enough meat to justify their actions, they do everything they can to add meaning to our main duo’s partnership. Joaquim de Almeida as the director of Interpol does what he’s meant to do, and Oldman chews as much scenery as the stars. But the award for best supporting character goes to Hayek. Spending the majority of her screen time in a prison cell, she makes every moment and every word count, projecting a fiery lightning bolt of foul-mouthed anger at everyone she comes in contact with. Though they share all but one or two scenes together, she compliments Kincaid perfectly. At no point are you confused by how the two would find each other irresistible, even when they’re giving each other crap.
It isn’t nearly as dynamic as the banter between Jackson and Reynolds, though, who after everything they go through are as equal at the end as they are at the beginning. The hitman and his bodyguard: brothers from a different mother who hate each other’s guts but hold tight to the same ideals — honor, justice, peace and love.
My Grade: A-
Next week, new movies include Leap!, Polaroid, Birth of the Dragon and All Saints. If you would like to see a review for tone of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.