- Directed by Richard Donner
- October 6, 1995
An assassin seeking to retire is confronted by a young upstart who keeps killing his final targets.
Assassins came out towards the end of Stallone’s box office power, but it is still a pretty good entry in his filmography with a story and screenplay by the Wachowskis who would eventually bring us The Matrix films. At the behest of Donner, the script was rewritten by Brian Helgeland who because of his work earned a co-screenwriter credit.
Sylvester Stallone’s character of Ray Rath (that name is a bit on the nose) is haunted by the death of his friend Nicolai (Anatoly Davydov) from 15 years earlier. You see Ray was the one that killed his friend because that was the order from his superiors.
Antonio Banderas stars as his nemesis Miguel Bain. Bain is a bit overconfident but definitely very crazy. I admit to not having caught too much of Banderas’s filmography so I do tend to forget just how good he can be and he is very good here. His character is driven and insane and weirdly idolizes Ray to the point he has modeled as much of what he does as he can after Ray’s methods.
And we get Julianne Moore as Electra, the world’s most attractive computer hacker who at one point is the mutual target of Ray and Bain. You could not quite pair Sylvester Stallone with somebody that fits the hacker stereotype. His onscreen love interests needed to look like they belonged on a runway. Seeing her here reminds me of the casting of Chris Hemsworth in the film Blackhat. I am not saying hackers are cave trolls, but it is difficult to suspend your disbelief when the stereotype seriously clashes with the casting.
Our two main assassins at this point in history were actors in their physical prime. The confrontations their characters are put into are very near superhuman in that big scale. Guns are blazing and there is at least one explosion in this movie that sends Bain flying out the window with nary a scratch. This was when practical effects were common and I think the rise of CGI caused the end of films like this. These scenes are not nearly as impressive when in the back of your mind you believe it is done on a computer.
The story is a game of cat and mouse between Rath and Bain with the stakes rising as the two move towards an inevitable final fight. It culminates at a foreign bank where Ray knows Bain will try to kill him much in the way Ray killed his friend Nicolai 15 years earlier. Bain is all about history as well as taking the title of number one assassin from Ray.
The finale is set in the burnt out remains of a hotel that does not look like it ever caught fire. I think they should have just gone with saying it had closed down and fallen into disrepair. One thing that strikes me though is maybe it’s just me, but it felt like a lot of action movies have had an old hotel for the villains to fight through. I remember it in James Bond movies and from a lot of action movies in general. Maybe it is just me.
The twist in the story comes when is revealed that Nikolai actually survived the shooting because he too understood history and knew that when Ray fired he always aimed for the heart and wore a bulletproof vest that fateful day and now apparently plans on absconding with money from the sale of a disk and eliminating his two witnesses-those being Ray and the injured Bain.
Assassins has enough story to fill out its runtime. Just enough. There is not a hint of an excessive amount of extra. You will not be left with lingering questions as it is all wrapped up in the end.
Donner knew action and those scenes are pretty good. The guy helmed the classic Superman: The Movie and the legendary Lethal Weapon films after all. If you have seen those then you know he can create epic action no matter the scale. These are two mere mortal men that fight like gods.
The acting is better than one might expect. Stallone, despite the bulk of his filmography, is a very good actor that because of his physique seems to regularly do action films. Banderas is no slouch either. And Moore makes “forgettable girlfriend” something memorable.
Assassins is an entertaining action film with one legendary action star and one fantastic actor facing off with a quality actress for an extra boost. For fans of action films this is definitely a watch it! For the rest of the world’s movie goers this is an if you want.