Not what you might expect...
, 26 May 2011
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
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The original release title for 'The Assassin Next Door' is 'Kirot' which a quick internet search leads me to believe means Walls, which is a much more apt (but less marketable) title than the international one that it's been saddled with here. Anyone watching this expecting a slam-bam orgy of high-octane action could be left highly disappointed with what is actually more of a low-key character drama which has interludes of violence.
Galia (Olga Kurylenko) is a Ukrainian woman who is living in Tel Aviv, Israel and has fallen into prostitution. She decides that she wants to leave the life so that she can return to the Ukraine and her daughter, whom abandoned and left with the father. An escape attempt with fellow prostitute goes badly wrong, her friend is killed and Galia is given the choice of either also being killed or earning her freedom doing assassinations.
After her first successful hit, she is moved into her own apartment and in the apartment across the hall she finds a woman, Elinor (Ninet Tayeb), who is routinely beaten by her husband. After a frosty start the two damaged women develop a friendship that goes some way towards healing them both, but the morally tortured Galia is less than forthcoming about her line of work. When Galia initially refuses and then subsequently botches a job to assassinate a woman, Galia's handlers start to have second thoughts about letting her go at all. At the same time Elinor discovers that she is pregnant and starts to wonder if an abusive household is the best place in which to bring up a child. The two friends decide to escape their current lives together, but will this attempt prove to be as doomed as Galia's first
When 'The Assassin Next Door' had finished I wasn't exactly blown away but it had definitely exceeded my expectations and perhaps more importantly had defied them in delivering a different 'type' of movie.
Like the majority of low budget movie makers, Director Danny Lerner has opted to shoot on hi-def video, rather than film, however the budget restraints have perhaps denied access to the same quality of cameras as your average Hollywood blockbuster. As such, whilst 'The Assassin Next Door' looks very filmic for the most part the video origins do tend to show through badly at times, most often in the fast moving action scenes. A shot early in the movie showing Galia running down a staircase looks like it's been filmed on a consumer grade Handycam. This is just a niggle though as for the most part it's very competently filmed and I hate to kick an otherwise-decent movie for something that's unavoidable due to budget issues.
Either by design or through (budget) necessity, Lerner also leaves the majority of the action for Acts 1 and 3, and the middle-section of the movie plays more as a drama about the growing friendship between Galia and Elinor and the troubles that haunt them. Whilst this might sound dull, decent writing and performances ensure that the attention is held and that we come to care for the characters and when the climax arrives, we genuinely want them to succeed in their bid for freedom. Olga Kurylenko here continues her bid to move away from being just eye-candy. Whilst I think it would be impossible to make her look ugly, for the most part here she looks a lot less glamorous than she usually does and turns in a solid dramatic performance. I was really surprised when I looked up the woman who plays Elinor on the internet, Ninet Tayeb, given the strength of her performance here. It appears that she is foremost a singer who won what sounds like an Israeli version of Pop Idol. In this regard she also provides the haunting closing song for the movie 'Friend', which is well worth watching the end credits for.
Director Lerner and cinematographer Ram Shewky shoot this movie in a very stylish way that reminds me of early Luc Besson. In fact, the ghost of Besson's Nikita (a.k.a. La Femme Nikita) hangs very much over this movie. Lerner seems to wear his influences on his sleeve, but sometimes this is done a little too brazenly in that it draws attention to itself. This is at its worst in the movie's last act where it tries to recreate the finale of Carlito's Way in a Tel Aviv bus station, even down to mimicking Patrick Doyle's memorable score from that same movie. This scene is also where the movie is let down by straining 'Suspension of Disbelief' a little too far. Is it possible in the very security conscious 'Israel', of all places, for a huge gunfight to break out in a public place and not have security there in seconds? Up until this point the movie has mostly presented a credible world so such far fetched antics really stand out and let it down so close to the finishing line.
As for the disc
For the subtitle-phobic, it's worth pointing out that the languages spoken in this movie are equal parts English and subtitled Hebrew & Russian. There's no complete English-dubbed option so if you absolutely can't abide subtitles then I'd steer clear. It's probably also worth noting that due to the subject matter this movie contains a lot of brutality against women. I know that some folk can be queasy about watching this so, if you're one of them, then I'd also advise caution before viewing. For everybody else, well it's a decent enough little film but it's most certainly more of a drama with action rather than the out-and-out action film that the title might imply. If you're curious or a die-hard fan of Kurylenko then I'd say it's worth a rental but I can't think of any particularly compelling reason to recommend purchasing it.
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