Mathieu Kassovitz’s second feature (his first was Hate) was easily the most despised film in competition at Cannes, although there were relatively few walkouts. Like Michael Haneke’s Funny Games though much more lowbrow, this 1997 French thriller exploits affectless violence to the utmost while attacking the exploitation of affectless violence, as a 25-year-old punk (Kassovitz) is trained in fatherly fashion by a seasoned hit man (Michel Serrault). But it lacks the icy distance of Haneke’s film, and its flagrant borrowings from Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, and Natural Born Killers also testify to the puritanical hypocrisy of those sources. Scorsese and Stone can get away with this sort of doublethink better than Kassovitz, however, because they put more emphasis on entertaining the audience than on preaching; Kassovitz, through sheer confused sincerity, too clearly exposes the muddled hypocrisy of his undertaking. Still, Assassin(s) has a certain dramatic voltage and communicates an underlying despair. And even when Kassovitz alternates between crass product placement and attacks on TV commercials, he’s merely giving the mainstream press what it usually asks for from movies. Maybe part of the rage this film provoked at Cannes had to do with the near-accuracy of its calculations. (JR)

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