leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh
A throwback to morose, washed-out-looking, '70s thrillers (think THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, THE FRENCH CONNECTION and DAY OF THE JACKAL), by director John Frankenheimer, who's been there and done that. Five professional killers converge in Paris,
summoned by the tight-lipped Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), who answers to the ruthless Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) and reveals only that she wants the men to steal a closely guarded metal briefcase. Jacks-of-all-trades Sam and Vincent (Robert De Niro and Jean Reno) are, respectively, an American ex-CIA
operative and a French coordinator of mysterious pedigree. Eastern European Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) is a computer specialist. The Englishman Spence (Sean Bean) specializes in weapons and Larry (Skip Sudduth), another American, is the driver. The mercenaries don't know what's in the briefcase,
don't trust each other and think Deirdre is in over her head. Deirdre is clearly troubled by the assignment, vicious Russian gangsters -- led by the volatile Mikhi (Feodor Atkine) -- are gumming up the works, and one of the five betrays the rest, so the mission dissolves into a bloody,
vengeance-driven game of cat and mouse. Frankenheimer pretty much ignores everything that's happened in the action and thriller genres since 1975, and mostly that's a good thing. It's a relief to see car chases that don't look like high-gloss bumper-car exhibitions, action sequences that aren't
aquiver with ultrafast cuts, and professional killers who aren't wisecracking comedians. Frankenheimer, whose GRAND PRIX raised the bar for high-speed auto footage, delivers some brisk action sequences, but his real interest lies in the casually cruel compromises and betrayals that go with the
mercenary territory. The question, of course, is whether contemporary thrill junkies can get past the fact that this somber tale delivers no knee-jerk adrenaline rush or cheap moral redemption to justify sitting through the nastiness.