Natalie Portman‘s Matilda in Luc Besson‘s 1994 assassin in training film Leon: The Professional assumes that Jean Reno‘s titular hit-man will be able to – after taking her under his wing – teach her to be a master cleaner and she has good reason to.

Joe Wright‘s Hanna is one of a long line of effortless killers who train effortless kills all able to appear and disappear with a snap of someone else’s bone. Eric Bana is the master who teaches daughter Saoirse Ronan to fights all comers while shooting and only missing when dramatically appropriate. At one point she shoots a Stag with a bow. It is a little bit like Helen Mirren might have done in The Queen (2006, Stephen Frears) had there been a reason to sex up HRM.

The exception to the trained hit-men of wonder comes in George Clooney‘s 2002 minor masterwork Confessions of a Dangerous Mind where Sam Rockwell‘s Chuck Barras gets his career as a CIA killer off to a messy start in Mexico that haunts him.

As Barras lives the life of a TV Producer in LA he is haunted by the bleached sun of Mexico and the grizzled killing of someone who’s name he never even knows. His first kill, messy and ugly, never leaves his mind.

Based on a story which Barras claims to be true Clooney’s film shows a world of assassination which movies shy from. The CIA killers in question are objectionable, dislikeable, and often seeking an end to boredom and in that way they might work for Hanna’s Government kingpin Marissa Wiegler who struggles to appease a boss angry that she did not report one of her henchmen being wiped out. The paperwork of assassinations.

Cate Blanchett plays Wiegler dusting off her Kathryn Hepburn accent from The Aviator (2004, Martin Scorsese) but is not the most curious killer on show. That honour goes to Tom Hollander who as Isaacs whistles, wearing a white tracksuit and looks entirely non-threatening. It is like Simon Fisher MP from Armando Iannucci‘s 2009 satire In The Loop had gone bad, but not got good at it.

Unlike Hanna, who is good at so many things, like all trained assassins are.

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By Michael Wood in May, 2011.


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