Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Assassination Tango (2002)

Director: Robert Duvall                                  Writer: Robert Duvall
Film Score: Luis Bacalov                              Cinematography: Félix Monti
Starring: Robert Duvall, Luciana Pedraza, Rubén Blades and Frank Gio

Assassination Tango is an interesting little film, an obvious labor of love as Robert Duvall not only starred in the film, but wrote and directed. And as if that weren’t enough, he married his co-star just two years later. Duvall’s first wife was also a dancer and when he met Luciana Pedraza in 1997 he clearly wanted to create a vehicle for the two of them that also explored his passion for Argentinian tango. As such it’s a curious mixture. Half of the film is an exploration of the dance culture, from the teaching studios to the salons to the performance halls. The other half is a rather quirky crime drama in which Duvall plays an aging hit man who needs to get away and asks to go on what he has decided will be his last mission for New York mobster Frankie Gio.

Duvall is dating Kathy Baker, who has a young daughter that he loves more than her mother. But it’s a good life. In a club one night on an assignment, however, he kills his quarry close up and his skill and instincts allow him to slip out without being caught. But needing to get away for a while he asks his boss, Frank Gio, to get him out of the country for a while and goes to Buenos Aries for one final assignment before he retires. But it quickly becomes clear that this is not just another assignment as the people involved do not appear to be professionals. His contact is the owner of a building that houses not only boxers and a gym, but a tango studio. He gets a gun from Frank Cassavetes, the same tiny .22 that he used in the previous hit. For this hit, however, he keeps asking for a rifle but one never comes. Finally, he takes a room across the street from his room and sees men going in and of his room at all hours. Knowing that he can’t trust them, he takes matters in his own hands with fascinating results.

Meanwhile, he’s told that his target, a retired general, has injured his leg in a horse riding accident and Duvall will have to spend three extra weeks waiting. So he begins to wander around Buenos Aries, drawn to the tango dancing culture there. He sees one particularly elegant dancer, Luciana Pedraza, in a performance hall several times and follows her to a dance salon. He introduces himself to her and they strike up an unusual friendship that leads to her sister’s dance studio as well as a fascinating evening at a dance salon with her aunt and uncle. It’s an interesting look into a particular culture that would seem to have no connection to the crime story that Duvall weaves it into. The script, as it is, is also very odd. Much of it seems improvised, and it’s clear that he is not a good writer. Many scenes that could have been really interesting seem to lack punch that professional writing could have given them.

This is a difficult film for audiences to take, as there isn’t a single thread to hang onto but two. It’s obvious that the crime story and the dancing are two of Duvall’s interests and he manages to do an adequate job of putting them together. But it is difficult to know where the two parts of the story are supposed to fit together and in the end they really don’t. I have a feeling this is a film that would be much more enjoyable on a second or third viewing. Once having absorbed the information about the dance culture it would be a lot easier to simply let that be the background of the story and concentrate on the assassination plot. While Assassination Tango is not a successful film, neither do I think it’s a failure. This would be one case, however, when knowing what to expect going in would have helped tremendously, and I'm actually looking forward to repeat viewings.

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