Danny Dyer has his sights set on the criminal underworld of London, but does he hit the mark?
No matter how cheesy straight-to-DVD action-thrillers might seem compared to their big screen counterparts, they rarely cease to provide a quick burst of cheap satisfaction, not unlike that of a decadent KFC family bucket. If you’re happy to get your fingers greasy now and then with your choice of action movies, then great – we can chat about Assassin. If not… well, we both know the salad is better for you anyway!
If this sounds like a slightly pessimistic outlook, it’s worth clarifying that Assassin is by no means a bad film. It has every hallmark of a British crime thriller. A strong, silent type who kills without conscience and will stop at nothing to protect the woman he loves? Check. Tough-nut East-London gangsters forced to take on one of their own? You bet.
The titular hitman-for-hire, Jamie (Dyer), falls in love with the daughter of a man he just ‘took out’ to the tune of ‘twenty grand’. Naturally, exotic dancer Chloe (Holly Weston) doesn’t know about her new boyfriend’s indiscretion, but once she starts to suspect the men who put out the hit on her father, the two are forced into hiding together, putting both of their lives at risk.
The plot has its dramatic highlights, like when the gang boss begins to suspect Jamie of helping the girl escape, or when a hit squad tracks the two down to their hideaway home in Brighton. These scenes really up the stakes and at its best, it’s easy to find yourself really wanting to overlook the missteps.
The issue is that it all seems rather too neat and tidy as an overall package and consequently loses much of the charm and unpredictability that can make British thrillers so enthralling. It has its dark side, sure, but the grittiness is damaged by an overbearing soundtrack that drowns out every emotional beat with MIDI-keyboard synth strings, as well as a script that sounds quite forced at several points.
There are, however, some stand-out performances from the supporting cast. Brothers Gary and Martin Kemp have a natural chemistry on-screen and both are enigmatic yet sinister throughout. The former is a father and husband and is gradually dying from some unspecified illness. It would have been nice to see more exploration of this side of the villain because it makes him the most authentic and therefore relatable character in the film (except for the whole criminal kingpin thing, but hey, nobody’s perfect!)
Their combined presence at least partly makes up for the rather flat performances seen elsewhere, including the leading lovers themselves. It makes sense for Dyer to play a dangerous assassin, as his character must be detached emotionally. Nobody would bat an eyelid at this (after all, he’s not closed off, he’s just British!), if only he wasn’t so insistent on keeping up this emotional wall to the point of self-parody. His damsel-in-distress girlfriend isn’t much more believable, but at least she attempts to go deeper into the tragedy of her position (which is good as she seems to be something of a magnet for misfortune!)
All this said, there is still plenty to like about this film, although other flicks have done the whole British gangster story a lot better. It could have benefited from taking some inspiration from the likes of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and added some of that dark humour we all seem to love. As it stands, Assassin treats itself just a bit too seriously and lacks the depth to back it up.
Assassin is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.