By the time we meet most big-screen hitmen, they’ve already attained the level of badass-ery required to be efficient killers. Far fewer movies take the time to examine the circumstances that result in a person becoming a murdering machine. Interview with a Hitman — a British action offering from first-time writer/director Perry Bhandal — stands out from the pack because it’s a surprisingly thoughtful meditation on the consequences of killing.
After a dialogue-free first 10 minutes, we meet Viktor (Luke Goss), a highly-skilled hitman who agrees to sit down for a videotaped chat with down-on-his-luck movie producer Xavier (Patrick Lyster). The interview format is a convenient device that allows Viktor to tell Xavier (and us) about his rough upbringing in the Outlying District of Bucharest in Romania. Even as a kid (an effective, chilling turn by young Elliot Greene), Viktor never backed down from a fight. So after local tough guy Sergei (Danny Midwinter) comes to collect a debt from Viktor’s scumbag father, the boy asks Sergei for a job. Sergei teaches Viktor’s the tricks of the killing trade until an unfortunate incident puts them at odds, and Viktor has to flee the country.
He arrives in London and quickly establishes himself within the criminal underworld. Viktor is taken under the wing of English crime boss Tosca (Philip Whitchurch) and eventually crosses paths with a dark-haired beauty named Bethesda (the stunning Caroline Tillette). His connection with Bethesda forces Viktor to reconsider his career just as his past threatens to catch up with him in a deadly way.
I mentioned the wordless opening because it turned out to be emblematic of Bhandal’s storytelling style. The movie opens with an eye-catching image of a young boy holding a gun to a little girl’s head. What follows is a sequence that seems jumbled at first — a fit bald man arriving at an airport; an older man sitting in a car looking at a box of curious items; that same bald man posing as a pizza delivery boy and killing another guy — but fits together nicely once we find out how Viktor (the bald guy) and Xavier (the older guy) relate to each other. Since there is no dialogue in that opening, Bhandal relies purely on visuals and a great, propulsive score by Dan Teicher to tell his story. That economy of storytelling carries over to the rest of the film and matches aesthetically with Viktor’s cool efficiency as a killer. (It also reminded me of a low-budget version of Michael Mann’s better work.) I mean, even the token “love interest who makes the main character want to give up what he does” is worked nicely into the story.
After his would-be breakout role in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Goss has settled in nicely as sort of a poor man’s Jason Statham in the straight-to-DVD action market, including headlining two sequels to Statham’s Death Race remake. (Then again, I’d argue Statham himself is a poor man’s Bruce Willis, so I suppose that makes Goss the homeless man’s Willis…but I digress!) For this film, I really liked that Goss didn’t shy away from infusing emotion into his performance as a cold-blooded killer. Young Viktor had a horrible, violent upbringing with a father who put bloody beatings on his mother. So it’s no surprise to see Viktor turn to a guy like Sergei as a surrogate father figure, even if Sergei’s idea of bonding is teaching a kid how to be the perfect assassin. (Midwinter does good, charismatic work as Sergei.)
My biggest letdown with Interview with a Hitman is that the film doesn’t fully live up to its title. The interview concept is used merely as a framing device and jumping-off point for Viktor to tell his story in a mostly linear way. I would’ve liked to have seen more interplay between Viktor and Xavier (especially since Lyster appeared to be a pretty capable performer). I also thought there was some fun to be had with the idea of a desperate movie producer willingly putting himself in a room with a killer. Thankfully, Bhandal’s script throws in some twists and turns to complement an action drama that is often as low-key and efficient as its title character.
Interview with a Hitman is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 26 mbps. The film’s visual presentation is another good example of form squaring up nicely with function. Director Perry Bhandal employs a handheld/digital video look that makes us feel the hitman’s urgency up close. The result is a large number of astoundingly detailed close-ups of both actors and objects, as well as heavy digital grain in some darkened medium shots. There’s also a slight grayish pall over everything that matches the grim circumstances. Early flashback sequences in Romania have a subtle sepia hue and higher contrast to differentiate them from the darker action in London. The Blu-ray image is strong, if a little rough around the edges. Fortunately, that works just fine for this film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is mostly a fantastic showcase for Teich’s moody, ever-present score. In addition to pumping out the great music, sound travels to the rears when it’s appropriate — most notably during a fight in a restaurant kitchen — even if atmospheric noises take a bit of a backseat. Dialogue is impressively intelligible given the high percentage of foreign accents (all the Romanian characters, plus Bethesda), while the subs are used to strong, muscular effect. The action in this film is more subtle than what you find in the average hitman film, and this track follows suit. It also makes the explosions of sound from the subs — including someone simply pounding on a door — more effective.
Making Of: (14:43) The cast and crew discuss the film as we’re treated to on-the-set footage. Goss talks about the challenge of playing such a stoic character, while Bhandal discusses the casting process and filming in Newcastle, England. We also learn the guy Viktor fights in the restaurant kitchen (Marcello Walton) doubled as the film’s fight director. This mini-doc is disappointingly standard fare for a pretty interesting action film. Presented in HD.
Interview with a Hitman is smarter and more engaging than the average hitman drama. If you’re expecting a cheesy shoot ‘em up — and those are certainly a lot of fun in their own right — prepare to be disappointed.
The Blu-ray’s audio/visual presentation is impressive, especially when you consider this is a low-budget affair from a first-time filmmaker. I actually wish the filmmaker and his team had taken more time to talk about their movie in the special features and provided us with more bonus material. If you’re in the mood for something a little more thoughtful — which is NOT code for “boring” in this instance — give this one a look.