Terrific noir thriller. Rodriguez is daring, provocative and sensational as a hitman. A must-see, so rent or buy it.
According to imdb.com, veteran director Walter Hill has been very busy producing. With THE ASSIGNMENT he’s back directing. Hill has also co-written the film with Denis Hamill. Sadly this fascinating mean, nor thriller did not get the distribution and recognition it deserves.
Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) is a freelance hitman. He’s hot, damn sexy and, as men do, walks straight from the shower through his seedy hotel room nude. Yeah, he’s all man with a beard, a strong nose, defining eyebrows, athletic build, body hair and a penis.
Frank accepts a $25,000 job for killing some lowlife who owed money all over town. Through flashbacks and time-traveling through all the pre-and-post events of the hit, THE ASSIGNMENT transfers its attention to the lowlife’s sister, Dr. Rachel Kay (Sigourney Weaver), who is in a straightjacket being interviewed by psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Green (Tony Shalhoub). Dr. Kay is being held in a mental facility until Dr. Green judges her sane enough to be sent to prison.
Dr. Kay considers herself a genius and free of the puny morality imposed on most of society. She explains herself using quotes from Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe and – if the conversation should stray towards nihilism, passages from Nietzsche. After all, he wrote God’s obituary.
Dr. Kay’s speciality was sex-reassignment surgery. Having become wealthy Dr. Kay decided to bypass the long, tedious paperwork and went rogue. Losing her medical license due to her radical medical practices, Dr. Kay resorted to paying criminals to supply her with subjects to work on. The only condition was that the unwilling subjects would not be missed.
Frank didn’t ask any questions when San Francisco gangster Honest John (Anthony LaPaglia) gave him a man’s photo and the cash for the hit. He just hides the money in his $10 a night hotel and goes out to a Chinatown bar. He meets Johnnie (Caitlin Gerard) and takes her back to his room for a very hot night of lovemaking.
After the hit, instead of leaving Chinatown, Frank stays around long enough for Honest John and his goons to return. They knock him out.
When Frank wakes up, he’s in another dirtbag hotel covered in bandages. To his absolute horror, his face has been feminized, his nose slimmed-down, his facial and body hair removed and he has breast implants. In excruciating panic, Frank’s hand goes between his legs. He now has a vagina.
Frank doesn’t know what the hell happened but a tape recorder message by Dr. Kay tells him that the surgery was a blazing success and a grand accomplishment. She’s very proud of her work. Dr. Kay is also very helpful. While Frank recovers, the room has been paid for two weeks and she has provided female clothes and $100. What Frank does next is terrific – the hell with clothes and shoes – he goes right down the street in the hospital gown for a bottle of liquor.
Frank returns to get his stashed money and calls Johnnie. Johnnie, when not hanging around dive bars in Chinatown, is a nurse. Frank asks her if he could stay at her place for a few days.
Nurses are generally not very squeamish but Johnnie doesn’t even blink when Frank shows up sans the beard and body hair. Frank may very well look like a female but his libido is still male.
It is revenge that must be served and Frank needs to find the “who” and the “why” behind his sadistic, mutilation surgery. He must start by locating the men who work for Honest John.
Meanwhile, returning to Dr. Kay, Dr. Green begins to provoke her to explain the shady character – someone she calls Frank Kitchen – he believes is an imaginary scapegoat she blames for her crimes.
Dr. Kay, when not is a straight-jacket, prefers masculine attire. Her choice of dress adds another dimension to her psyche.
This is a film where everyone is ruthless, mean, savage and violent. While Dr. Kay insists she has a perfectly normal sex life with her male assistant, she and now Frank, clearly have sexual issues.
Weaver, giving a virtuoso performance, tackles her long, exceptionally intricate dialogue with ease. How do these pros do it? Its not hard when the camera moves back and forth during a dialogue heavy scene, but when the camera stays on the actor/actress delivering a lot of dialogue, I always take note of it. Sure, stage performers have to memorize pages of dialogue but they have weeks repeating the lines over and over again in rehearsals.
I also want to praise Weaver for being all-in. THE ASSIGNMENT is a low-budget thriller starring the underrated Rodriguez. For those who grouse Rodriguez only has her FAST AND FURIOUS franchise (Jordana Brewster rightly owns that), THE ASSIGNMENT is a daring choice and so well done, it ranks high in the grimy, dank, noir genre.
And, let’s just say, continuing to delve into the character of Frank Kitchen as a male assassin would certainly be, from this viewer’s point of view, a terrific, truly gender-nonconformity breakthrough. Frank could ditch the motorcycle jacket and be fitted appropriately by “The Tailor”, get a few bona fidesrequired by “The High Table” and then, conditions met, get a room at “The Continental”.