The central gimmick of new movie Killers Anonymous is an AA-style support group where various underworld assassins come to “share”. That’s about all it has to bring to this flagging party, other than underlining how utterly divorced the movies’ concept of the “hitman” has become from reality. The world is tragically full of gun violence and targeted assassinations, but the perpetrators are rarely cool international assassins who make a clean shot from a rooftop far away, or walk away from explosions without turning round (thus making it painfully obvious that they’re the culprit!). And yet these characters have become a tiresome fixture of modern moviegoing. Someone needs to take them out.
Where Killers Anonymous assembles a motley group of recovering assassins (including Gary Oldman and Jessica Alba), we might easily form our own circle of killaholics. Pulling up the first chair would be Keanu Reeves’s badass assassin John Wick. One estimate puts his kill count over his three movies at 299, so … work to do. Joining him could be Mads Mikkelsen from Polar, Helen Mirren from Red, Jason Statham’s “Mechanic”, George Clooney’s “American”, Pierce Brosnan’s “Matador”. The queue stretches round the block. Here’s Killing Eve’s Villanelle. Here’s Bill Hader’s Barry. Samuel L Jackson from The Hitman’s Bodyguard sends his apologies. He can’t make it because he’s filming the sequel.
Oh God, now Luc Besson has turned up. We are going to need more chairs. Besson’s filmography mirrors the descent of this stock character so precisely, it could well all be his fault. Each of Besson’s killers has been an inferior copy of the last, starting back with Nikita and Leon in the 90s, and regressing, via remakes and TV adaptations, through Timothy Olyphant’s Hitman, Zoe Saldana’s Colombiana, and – just a few weeks ago – Sasha Luss’s Anna, whose pointless model/assassin exploits unfolded with algorithmic predictability. More often than not, the only way to play these killers now is for laughs. And for sympathy. True, their day job is making people like us dead, but they have feelings, too. And they adopt orphans.
Maybe this kind of stuff made more sense back in the paranoid 1960s and 70s, when high-profile assassinations really were a regular occurrence. With the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, and countless other political killings fresh in the mind, thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal or Le Samourai might have had some resonance. But the world no longer works like that in most places. Today, a lone-wolf killer with a well-stocked arsenal signals “radicalised white nationalist” rather than Keanu Reeves in a sharp suit, yet in the movies we’re still stuck in the same old cycle. Isn’t admitting the problem the first step on the road to recovery?
Killers Anonymous is in cinemas from 28 August