Assassin Club (2023) Review
Assassin Club was directed by Camille Delamarre (Cannes Confidential, The Transporter Refuelled), written by Thomas Dunn (The Body Tree, The Perfect Witness), and stars Henry Golding (Snake Eyes, Last Christmas), Daniela Melchior (Marlowe, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3), Noomi Rapace (Lamb, Close), Anastasia Doaga (Girls Don’t Cry, The Bad Guy), Jimmy Jean-Louis (Detective Knight: Rogue, Detective Knight: Independence), Lorenzo Buran (L’eco dell’oro, Six Good Ones to Stay), and Sam Neill (Escape Plan, Rams). It’s about an assassin who, after accepting a contract to kill six people, finds out that they’ve all been given the same orders and works to uncover who the client is.
The Plot: Undoubtedly inspired by pulp stories and the recent string of John Wick films, Dunn has plenty of story to work through, with guilds, targets, pasts, and mysteries, and not enough time to tell it properly, making Assassin Club’s plot stuffed beyond capacity.
In the midst of a job in Slovenia, hired gun Morgan (Golding) is attacked by Drakos (Buran), setting the former on edge. The job gets done and Morgan is thinking of retiring to live with his girlfriend Sophie (Melchior), given the crosshairs his job puts him under. However, Morgan’s handler, Caldwell (Neill) tempts him with one last job: six targets at $1 million each. In under 20 minutes, Assassin Club submits fully to cliche, and lest anyone think the title’s implication might set it apart, there’s no club or code to follow. At first Morgan declines, but once Drakos attacks him in the wild and Caldwell reveals that he was one of the targets, he has little choice but to accept.
A prologue showing the death of young Jonna’s (Doaga) father sets up the conflict, as Assassin Club flashes forwards seven years and details her pitting of the contract killers – including Falk (Rapace), who’s part of a convoluted revenge scheme – on each other and her requirement of a finger verification. There’s plenty of exposition to keep audiences in the loop, as the aforementioned subplots are maintained and another one involving Jonna’s bought cop Leon (Jean-Louis) bailing Morgan out is added, but this didn’t have to be the case, as Delamarre is making what boils down to just another underworld actioner with an abnormally talky story.
The Characters: Because so much of Assassin Club’s time is taken up by unnecessary story beats, the movie relies on basic good and bad characterization and a grab bag cast to do the humanizing, which is mostly a poor decision.
Instead of prying deeper into the hitman occupation, Morgan is a weirdly stand-up guy who only kills bad people (how he and Caldwell decide who qualifies is left a mystery) and watches his security feed to judge the actions of unsuspecting civilians. And yet, he maintains an obvious lie for Sophie, claiming to be a photojournalist despite always coming back home with bullet wounds, scrapes, and bruises. Not only does Dunn make Morgan the golden boy, but he does so without acknowledging who he’s supposedly better than. Golding is likeable in the role, but a better script would’ve aided him further.
Hostile forces aren’t detailed beyond their weapons of choice and country of origin, except for Falk, whose hazy identity and background becomes another source of endless dialogue. She sports a bad wig, unconvincing accents, and bold blue contacts, and has a personal connection to Jonna and a professional one to an undisclosed surveillance agency. Canned antagonists are opened for the others, with Drakos a Greek sniper, and the others consisting of a woman who’s good with blades, a guy with a penchant for poison, a straight-up brute, and a couple of other unspecified shooters. None of these details add anything.
Jonna’s father was killed and now she wants revenge. Why this requires her to hire seven assassins to kill each other when only a couple of them are even remotely related to this is ill-explained, but since she inherited her father’s millions, she can give comeuppance to whoever she sees fit. The only character who makes an impression is Caldwell, and he’s just here to clarify muddied relationships and act snarky, which Neill has a great time doing. The other actors weren’t so lucky.
The Action: Delamarre has worked in churning out a few Luc Besson-produced action movies, and now that he’s free from the assembly line, one might hope that Assassin Club had a style of its own. While there are highlights, there aren’t enough to match the lows of the monologues.
Initiating the intra-killer conflict is the film’s peak, as a flurry of confusion hits everyone but Drakos. While Morgan is perched in a window looking at his target, he takes a couple hits from his assailant but sticks around to finish the job, which results in the target’s goons storming the building in which the best action setpiece takes place. Morgan for some reason has two red smoke grenades which he deploys and uses as cover to take out the armed men one by one before the cover dissipates. It’s an urgent scene that comes with its own ticking clock and results in the protagonist using a gunman as a quick multi-story jump to escape.
Nothing matches that sequence, as the work of stunt coordinators Claudio Pacifico and Francesco Petrazzi is seldom shown in shots longer than a second or two long. A few choppy fistfights happen between the beginning and the middle, but it takes until about the hour mark for anything else to happen. This time, it’s between Morgan and the blade wielder, but the fight is rather bland in its execution, with a few punches thrown and a repeat of the finale of the first setpiece. Apart from some unnecessary editing, this scene is fine and overall too quick. Thankfully a scene showing what Falk can do follows it up.
As far as action goes, the last highlight is when Falk uses her day job connections to sic a team of men on Morgan as he’s hunting the last of the other assassins. This doesn’t have the benefit of an interesting location, and the other killer isn’t really a part of the sequence, but the ensuing gunfights are competent enough and have some interesting camera angles to display the action from. It’s just a shame the ratio of action to exposition isn’t closer to a one-to-one, even if the setpieces are largely perfunctory.
The Technics: Without a strong vision, or even an opportunity to have one thanks to the film’s screenplay, Assassin Club is largely formula filmmaking with very few mechanical aspects worth noting.
While the stop and start pacing is the easiest thing to pick on, the larger issue is the film’s runtime, at an hour and fifty-three minutes, the feature needed judicious rewrites to condense the bland dialogue and shorten the overall length, which overstays its welcome by a good 15 minutes. Delamarre and Mickael Dumontier’s (Final Cut, 8 Assassins) editing could’ve helped either way, but instead of trimming fat, they only serve to jostle the melee scenes, making them as tough to discern as the inane plot.
Budgetary restraints kept Assassin Club from fully reaching its globetrotting goals, which hinders the action and the scenes between it since most of the locations look similar. Probably because the filming largely took place in Turin, Italy, which is forced to sub in for Prague, Ljubliana, Lisbon, and an unnamed city in Spain. Cheap makeup effects and neutral cinematography don’t help keep up appearances either.
Delmarre isn’t a strong director, and Assassin Club lacks its own touches to set itself apart in the hitman arena. It has a few good spots, but you’re better off watching Accident Man or John Wick.