Assassin Club is so incomprehensible it’s a wonder it got a cinema release. It manages to be both convoluted and redundant simultaneously. It is a little under two hours long, which seems welcome given the 150 minute plus blockbuster we often get. Too bad you feel every minute of its runtime.
It’s an unfortunate outcome as the premise does sound like fun. Henry Golding is Morgan Gaines, a prolific assassin. He wishes to leave the profession and begin an ordinary life with his girlfriend Sophie (Daniela Melchoir). Yet, just as he thought he was out, Morgan is pulled back in. He’s given one last contract, which dictates that he must kill six other assassins for six million dollars. There’s a catch though: these assassins have all been contracted to kill each other too, as well as Morgan. The film is a kill or be killed story in which Morgan has to fight to survive.
From the get go, Assassin Club is all over the place. It’s a narratively cluttered spectacle that takes place seemingly across the entirety of Europe with how often it jumps between cities like Paris, Barcelona and Prague. Action stories often take place across various locations, but Assassin Club swings between cities so frequently it threatens to cause whiplash. It’s bad enough that the idea of assassins all competing against each other has been seen as recently as Bullet Train, but with the sheer number of targets to kill and locations to travel to it’s not always easy to keep track of what’s happening to who when.
It lacks focus, and the spectacle suffers just as much. Although there are some impressive sequences such as car chases and close quarters brawling, these otherwise well choreographed scenes are obscured through an overreliance on shaky cam and rapid cutting. The film seems to have gone to the Taken 3 school of editing, as it intersplices so many angles that it becomes near impossible to make sense of what’s happening.
The best action movies work because we care about the characters partaking in the excitement. Even if the action of Assassin Club was on par with The Matrix, the characters are bland archetypes rather than fleshed out players. Morgan is a John Wick type who wants to leave his violent world behind but keeps getting drawn in. Yet, outside of loving his girlfriend and snarling a lot, he has no other discernible characteristic, thus becoming indistinguishable from hundreds of action heroes before, and likely after, him. Sophie is the typical partner who doesn’t know her boyfriend’s secret occupation, eventually being reduced to little more than a damsel in distress. Meanwhile Noomi Rapace’s antagonistic Falk has all the menace and subtlety of a Phase Two Marvel villain. The script feels as though it was written by AI given how done to death and flat its characterisation and narrative is.
The one interesting character is that of Anastasia Doaga’s Jonna, who is involved in a flashback at the start of the film and then periodically appears throughout. Had she been the central antagonist instead then Assassin Club could have explored its themes on vengeance and violence with much more consideration. But she is not, and thus all potential intrigue and nuance is traded in for messy run-of-the-mill thrills.
Even the actors seem aware of this. Golding is a great talent with a proven track record. But his exaggerated expressions of sternness border on parody. Others, such as Rapace, and especially Sam Neill as the film’s mentor character, seem purely motivated by the paycheck, which may as well have been waved at them from behind the camera during takes.
Also, at the risk of sounding nitpicky, Morgan is a terrible assassin. The film makes many overly convenient narrative shortcuts. Much of this is down to Morgan who makes what feels like pretty amateur mistakes for a renowned assassin, namely not finishing off his targets properly, only to have them come back. The final scene sets up for a sequel – but had Morgan done a double tap by shooting someone in the head as well as the chest, as many assassins are documented with doing, then this theoretical sequel wouldn’t be possible. With little to no consideration towards character choices, emotional resonance or even thematic consistency, it’s a film that operates mainly on the rule of cool, and even then we can’t see it half the time.
Assassin Club is a drag at best and a mess at worst. The only thing that separates it from hundreds of action titles that have come before it is its poor craftsmanship and a script so unremarkable it could exist as a template in textbooks. It doesn’t even end – it just sort of stops, as if even the film had run out of patience with itself. When done passionately and skilfully, action movies can be some of the greatest times at the movies. Assassin Club is destined for a life at the bottom of the bargain bin pile.
Action, Thriller | USA, 2023 | 15 | Cinema | 14th April 2023 (UK) | Paramount Pictures | Dir.Camille Delamarre | Henry Golding, Sam Neill, Noomi Rapace, Daniela Melchior, Claudio Del Falco