Film Reviews


By • Mar 28th, 2003 •

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MGM / United Artists / American Zoetrope / Butchers Run Films
R-Rated / 114 minutes

Are there 72 year-old hit men?

Robert Duvall has had a long, rich career. After all, he was in THE GODFATHER! But apparently, even with the acclaim, money, and fame, Duvall never gets the kind of parts he really yearns for. The kind of parts that he deserves, damn it! So, after writing and directing the highly praised THE APOSTLE, he wrote himself another part: A virile hit man who gets involved with an exotic young woman and learns how to tango. Duvall couldn’t trust it to just any hack director, so he directed it himself and is now merrily promoting it, and his girlfriend, all over the world. Well, at least he knows how to appropriately thank a very young woman for being his constant companion.

I certainly do not begrudge rich old men their young, hot girlfriends. I do question why they have to be so public about it. I guess having it is not enough, you have to show it off (which makes “hidden” WMD a pressing anomaly for me).

Publicity is the new Viagra.

Rich male movie stars live in a different reality than the rest of us. They don’t age like ordinary men. They are blessed. When they hit old age, they get sexier and more virile. Their testosterone levels soar. But why push it on audiences who know that 72 year-old men are not sex objects?

In “Assassination Tango” Duvall plays, John J, a Brooklyn hit man who is quite active at his profession. He owns a string of beauty parlors. Killing people doesn’t look very lucrative since he lives with Maggie (Kathy Baker), who works in one of his shops, in a rundown house. Don’t these guys ever save any money? The passion in John J’s life is Jenny (Katherine Micheaux Miller), Maggie’s ten-year old daughter. He stalks her going to school. He fawns over her.

John J accepts a job killing a general in Argentina. When the general has an accident and is hospitalized for a few weeks, John J decides to take up the tango while he waits. He tells very young tango teacher Manuela (Luciana Pedraza) that Jenny is his soul, his breath.

Since Duvall is completely immersed in the world of Tango we are subjected to listening to Tango greats talk about tango. “Tango is life.” “Tango is love.” “Tango is hate.” Tango has also been very good to Duvall. Pedraza is his real life girlfriend.

Even as mesmerizingly self-indulgent as “Assassination Tango” is, it’s fascinating that the male ego still remains fragile and doubt-ridden. While John J’s love for Jenny is meant to humanize him, did Duvall let the idea creep into his mind that their relationship had him looking like a “loving grandpa?” Why in the good Lord’s name did he, at the end of the movie, have a young Buenos Aires prostitute tell police John J insisted she call him “Daddy?” The detective was as shocked as I was. Look kinky or look like a grandpa? Duvall chose kinky thus collapsing the structure of John J’s relationship with Jenny that he, as the writer, had set up. It made John J creepy but totally erased the “loving grandpa” thought from my mind.

The movie reeks with every sad, trite “I can still get it up” image: A black panther roams around, and scenes are set in Brooklyn boxing clubs. John J’s world is tough. John J is confrontational. John J kicks phones, busts up rooms, shouts, yells, has sex with whores, walks around shirtless, curses, fires guns, and dances. Okay, okay, at least John J didn’t rap.

And while I’m pondering the subject of assassination, where the Hell is bin Laden?

I recently visited the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul.* The sacred relics are extraordinary: John the Baptist’s skull and forearm bones! Joseph’s hat! Abraham’s crockery! Moses’ staff – the staff that parted the Red Sea! The staff Moses used when he doubted God’s command! The Prophet Muhammad’s sandals! Hairs from his beard! His footprint! And, importantly, a handwritten letter from the Prophet. In 628 the Prophet sent messages to the king of Persia, the Byzantine Emperor, the Governor of Egypt, and the Prince of Abyssinia, inviting them to embrace Islam. The letter addressed to al-Muqawqis, the Egyptian Governor, is preserved. It reads:

“There is safety and security for those believers who follow the correct path. Therefore, I invite you to accept Islam. If you accept it, you shall find security, save your throne, gain twice as much reward for having introduced Islam to your followers. If you refuse this invitation, let the sin of the calamity which awaits your followers be upon you. You too are People of the Book; therefore, let us come to a word common between us and you, that we worship none but Allah and shall not associate anyone with Him. Let us not abandon Allah and take others for Lord other than Him. If you do not consent to this invitation, bear witness that we are Muslims.”

It is an elegant, brilliantly direct letter – Accept Islam or else. So, reading Osama bin Laden’s “letter to the American people,” published on November 24, 2002, causes me grave concern. Bin Laden rails against gambling “in all its forms.” (I live in Las Vegas). He is upset that we are a nation that “exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools calling upon customers to purchase them.” His litany of moral offenses are the very things that glorify and celebrate Las Vegas. Primarily, bin Laden’s explicit letter addresses two questions: “Why are we fighting and opposing you?” And, “What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?”

His answer to the second question echoes the Prophet. bin Laden says: “The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.”

As we bray about a fast and furious victory in Iraq, I’d like to quote Bernard Lewis from “The Crisis of Islam”: “If Arabia is the most symbolic location in the world of Islam, Baghdad, the seat of the caliphate for half a millennium and the scene of some of the most glorious chapters in Islamic history, is the second.” Ooophs! Regardless of our triumph in Iraq, bin Laden’s statement, “Leave us alone, or else expect us in New York and Washington,” scares me.

* to see the relics Victoria writes about, go to:

John J.: Robert Duvall
Miguel: Ruben Blades
Maggie: Kathy Baker
Manuela: Luciana Pedraza
Frankie: Frank Gio
Jenny: Katherine Micheaux Miller

Director-screenwriter: Robert Duvall
Producers: Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner
Executive producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Linda Reisman
Director of photography: Felix Monti
Production designer: Stefania Cella
Editor: Stephen Mack
Costume designer: Beatriz di Benedetto
Music: Luis Bacalov
Music supervisor: Charlie Feldman

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