Hitman apparently had a troubled production and it took several years for Eidos and IO Interactive to find studios that were prepared to finance and distribute the project. It was originally intended as a vehicle for Vin Diesel and he is still credited as an executive producer on the film. Various directors were associated with the project until Xavier Gens finally took the role. Gens was riding high at the time in France due to the critical success of his previous movie Frontier. However, stepping into mainstream corporate film making was a baptism of fire. The movie was subject to numerous re-writes and a lot of his material was reshot at the studios request. Locations were changed and plot devices were altered resulting in a very chaotic production. However, considering all these problems, the theatrical release of Hitman was not the disaster that some expected or claimed it to be. It’s actually a well-paced action film with good set pieces, a competent cast and an unusual setting. Is it high art? No. Is it satisfactory entertainment? Yes. However, I speak as someone who has no major attachment to the video game franchise that inspired it. Fans may differ.
I have often said that the action genre was in many ways, at its peak during the eighties. Although contemporary films can offer more sophisticated production values, back then movies had superior editing, physical stunts and most importantly, no requirement to pander to prevailing social trends or political dogma. As a genre they ran on their own internal logic and that was sufficient to sustain them. In this respect Hitman is a throwback to that era. It does not feel the need to provide the protagonists with an in-depth back story. It is simply not important to know the complexities of the title characters background. This is a genre movie and not a human drama. The esoteric nature of agent 47 is part of the character’s appeal. To explore it too far would be to negate his enigma. Mercifully, the film does not make this mistake. The dialogue is spartan and functional. There are hints at there being hidden depths to agent 47 but they are not dwelt on. The primary focus on the movie is the action, which is what fans expect from this sort of material.
Timothy Olyphant is suitably remote in the central role, yet still accessible and credible to viewers. He establishes a good rapport with Olga Kurylenko, who plays a material witness to a complex plot of subterfuge. He also acquits himself well in the action sequences, particularly the four-man sword fight, which is very well choreographed. The use of Eastern European locations, the involvement of Luc Besson and international pedigree of the film crew makes the film more exotic than usual. Hitman has quite a different look and feel than that of your typical US based action film. The globe spanning story line further broadens the appeal. The stunt coordination is solid and delivers the level of carnage associated with the franchise. However, it should be noted that like so many modern films of this genre, there are multiple versions available. The R rated theatrical print is quite strong but the unrated version certainly increases the levels of onscreen violence. It is this version that is currently available on Blu-ray in most regions.
The critics were not kind to Hitman upon its release, finding it hard to see any virtue in it. I personally can think of numerous other films based on video games that have been a lot worse. However, if you have a strong emotional connection to this particular series, then this may be a little too superficial for you. But that is the nature of screen adaptations of popular gaming franchises. They take the major themes, or aesthetic trappings of the source material and try to explore in a different way. Therefore, if you are a more forgiving action film aficionado, Hitman is a perfectly adequate genre offering. This mainly due to the respective performances by Timothy Olyphant and Olga Kurylenko. As ever, out of the two edits of the film, my recommendation is with the unrated version. It does gives the action scenes a more visceral edge. Sadly, the respective virtues of Hitman were not present in the 2015 reboot, Hitman Agent 47. That curious movie reeks of film making by focus group.