If you’ve ever seen a buddy movie, particularly one from the 1980s, you know exactly what to expect from The Hitman’s Bodyguard. Two men who have past history, and hate each other, are forced to work together to defeat baddies and they bond in the process. Along the way they’ll face challenges, which makes them fall out, but everyone knows they will develop respect and a manly fondness for each other by the end.
So far, so stereotyped.
Ryan Reynolds plays Michael Bryce, a high class "executive protection agent" looking after the rich and powerful. When one of his clients is killed on his watch, Bryce’s reputation becomes worthless. Reduced to protecting less classy clients – Richard E. Grant’s cameo as a cocaine-fuelled paranoid lawyer is noteworthy – Bryce’s life spirals downwards.
Enter the ex-girlfriend, Interpol agent Amelia (Elodie Yung), whom Bryce harbours huge resentment for. There’s always an ex in these stories, and these female roles are purely there to flesh out the male lead, allowing his character to develop enough to win her back. Spoiler: she takes him back. I’m not ruining anything, it’s obvious from the outset. What’s frustrating is that Amelia could have been an interesting character in her own right – indeed, I’d have liked to seen the entire film led by Yung – but the script is so poor that her inclusion is solely to drive Bryce’s arc. She may be a top-notch Interpol agent, but apparently this also means she’s inept, and so she has to ask Bryce’s help in protecting someone.
That someone is hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L Jackson), and Interpol need him to be transported to The Hague to testify against Belarusian president Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) who is on trial for crimes against humanity. As you may have guessed by now, Kincaid is obviously sarcastic, swears profusely, loves spontaneous violence, but has a heart of gold and will be the one person who Bryce has to call on in his time of need. They fight, they argue, they bond, they fight again, they argue once more, they save each others’ lives, they learn something from each other, they leave as friends.
This is buddy-by-numbers, and every scene goes exactly as you would expect. That’s not to say it isn’t enjoyable, and the stunts, particularly the fantastic high-speed Amsterdam chase involving cars, vans, motorbikes and boats, are up there with The French Connection in their intensity. The two leads also play off each other very well, and their chemistry is great. There are many funny moments, for sure, but it’s entirely predictable. Director Patrick Hughes and writer Tom O’Conner haven’t offered anything new in this genre: there’s no freshness to the tried-and-tested story arc.
There’s nothing wrong with a film not requiring much from its audience, and being brainless humour: sometimes it’s good to switch off and just enjoy a simple plotline. But where this film fails, for me, was in its tired stereotypes, and this is particularly evident in its sexist portrayal of the female supporting actors. An example of this is when Kincaid’s wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) is introduced. The camera lingers, slowly, on a close-up of her bottom, and again on her breasts - more than once - for no reason at all other than titillation. It adds absolutely nothing to the story and actually was jarring: we’re shown a character who holds her own space, who delights in comedic extreme violence, and suddenly we get shots of her arse and tits. The inclusion of these images highlights just how often male directors use women’s bodies in this way; there are no equivalent shots of Reynold’s arse or pecs. But then we’re not supposed to be looking at men’s sexual attractiveness, because the assumed audience is male, and where would they be without a little bit of sexy female titillation in their action films, ‘eh?
It’s irritating that gratuitous sexual objectification of women is such a frequent occurrence in movies. A gender-flipped The Hitman’s Bodyguard, where Yung and Hayek argue and kick arse, and fight baddies, and then end up saving their husbands after a drawn out car chase which almost kills them, but which ultimately redeems them and makes them realise they respect each other, (and where there are gratuitous close-ups of scantily-clad men), is a film I want to see. This one, where the men yet again save the day – and the women are solely love interests for the men – not so much.