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  •  REVIEW: ASSASSINATION TANGO

    Assassination Tango

    False step

    Robert Duvall's "Assassination Tango" is not committed enough as a thriller or as a passionate tango movie to succeed as either one.

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    "Tourists are terrorists with cameras, while terrorists are tourists with guns," wrote the poet Andrei Codrescu in a different context. John J. is a tourist with a gun, and that's part of the problem — both his and ours.

      
    ASSASSINATION TANGO
    Written and directed by: Robert Duvall.
    Cast: Robert Duvall, RubŽn Blades, Kathy Baker, Luciana Pedraza, Julio Oscar Mechoso, James Keane, Frank Gio, Katherine Micheaux Miller, Frank Cassavetes, Michael Corrente, Raśl Outeda, GŽraldine Rojas, Elvio Nessier.
    In English and Spanish with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    "Assassination Tango" is a not-good-enough hit-man thriller grafted uncomfortably onto a not-good-enough tango movie. Robert Duvall, who also wrote and directed, stars as an aging hit man who is sent to Argentina and takes a detour into Buenos Aires' tango clubs while he waits for his target to show up.

    We're told repeatedly that John, who apparently has a long background with the CIA in Guatemala, is "the best" at what he does, and we're supposed to be impressed with his thoroughness as he carefully prepares for his hit. So how is it that after carefully questioning the reliability of each of his local contacts, he indulges in a high-visibility social life among tango instructors and prostitutes without a thought for his anonymity?

    Strutting through the Buenos Aires streets, speaking bad Spanish and striking up condescending conversations with everyone he meets, Duvall's character (perhaps more Duvall himself than a character) is every bit the ugly American. He is to low-profile what Liberace was to straight-looking straight-acting.


      
    The show-stealing Maria Nieves, as Manuela's saucy, retirement-aged aunt, regales the group with tango lore. Take Duvall out of this picture and let this family demonstrate the tango, and you'd have a terrific movie.  

      
    He meets Manuela (Luciana Pedraza), a pretty and graceful tango dancer, and insists on enjoying her company and her dance instruction while he's in town. There's a little (unlikely) flirtation along the way, but mostly the focus is on the dancing. The dancing is lovely and in fact dominates the film, but it's not explained well or shot well. It's a tourist's view — I strongly suspect that Duvall himself vacationed in Argentina, saw some tango, and decided to make a movie about it. The problem is that he, exactly like his character, didn't understand it intimately and didn't make much effort to learn.

    There is one tango-related scene that hints at what's missing. Manuela brings her whole family out to a club and the show-stealing Maria Nieves, as Manuela's saucy, retirement-aged aunt, regales the group with tango lore. Duvall laughs and nods and pretends he understands when it's obvious he really doesn't. Take Duvall out of this picture and let this family demonstrate the tango, and you'd have a terrific movie.

    Of course, the dancing is only a colossal digression from the assassination plot, which is inadequately developed. Somebody in the plot is unreliable and nothing goes as planned, but there's not much intrigue involved because we haven't spent much time on it. And whether or not John J. carries out his assassination and makes it back to see his beloved family again, do we care? He's an amoral, unfaithful and personally repellent killer. So he also loves his stepdaughter. Big deal.

    Duvall's previous film, the faux cinema-verite "The Apostle," did a lot of things boldly that "Assassination Tango" can't get right. In that loose, improvisational film, he also played a rather empty character — a self-appointed clergyman in the South who had no vocabulary outside of a preacher's platitudes and thus a limited ability to function in the secular world — but it was a character who, unlike this one, was intriguing because of the strange realization that he could well be real. This character is less interesting, less unusual and less real — his main characteristic is that he's very full of himself.

    Pedraza as Manuela is another hyperreal touch. Slightly stilted and reserved, she rarely seems to be performing pre-written dialogue. Duvall's real-life girlfriend seems like exactly what her character is — a woman getting hit on by some American weirdo. Her non-performance might not work for many viewers, but perhaps it's true to life because it isn't actress-y. I kind of liked it. Yet, it contributes heavily to the sense that the movie was not well written, well planned or well rehearsed in advance. Like John J. the confused American who pretends he understands Spanish but clearly doesn't, Duvall the writer-director seems to be faking his way through the film.

    MARCH 27, 2003
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Assassination Tango:

  • DUVALL'S LATEST   from JODI, Apr 29, 2003
  • Re: DUVALL'S LATEST   from angel, Jan 23, 2004
  • Asassination Tango   from J. Jones, May 26, 2003
  • Re: Asassination Tango   from Gotan, Jul 27, 2003
  • Re: Asassination Tango   from alan peterson, Dec 28, 2003
  • Re: Asassination Tango   from David, Aug 8, 2010
  • Assassination Tango succeeds!   from Justin Windsor, Dec 29, 2003
  • Re: Assassination Tango succeeds!   from collin, Dec 31, 2003
  • Re: Assassination Tango succeeds!   from Kathy, Jul 24, 2004
  • Re: Assassination Tango succeeds!   from Floyd Baker, Nov 24, 2004
  • Re: Assassination Tango succeeds!   from Joel, Aug 24, 2011
  • Loved it.   from Juan J, Dec 7, 2004
  • Re: Loved it.   from Joshua, Dec 7, 2004
  • fantastik geraldine   from Damiano N. Falco, Oct 18, 2005

  • Post a comment on "Assassination Tango"