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There’s little room to talk about the ridiculous, pulpy noir plot of The Assignment, because the performances by Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Rodriguez are such knockouts. But it’s great: Hitman Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez in a full-body man suit and resembling a very young Laurence Fishburne) kills the brother of a black-market surgeon, Dr. Kay (Sigourney Weaver). The good doctor then kidnaps Frank and performs a revenge gender reassignment — now a hitwoman, Frank has to learn how to live in a female body, all while seeking her revenge. Rodriguez absolutely tears it up as a stomping, cussing nuclear core of male swagger, both before and after the surgery.
Weaver’s Dr. Kay is a sociopathic Ayn Rand consumed with mad science whose mob connections provide her with homeless people — “nobody that matters,” she says — on whom she conducts illegal experimental procedures. Where Frank is all laconic physicality, Dr. Kay is cerebral, verbose and vicious. (The score even gives her a few pipe organ cues.) Her dialogue is fantastic, and Weaver joyfully pitches the character’s condescension, insults and vitriol at all of her antagonists.
The Assignment is written and directed by action mainstay Walter Hill (The Warriors, 48 Hrs.), who builds the story along separate tracks that meet in a hail of bullets and well-planted surprises. The film is wallpapered with beatings, shootings and bloodshed, so its genuine sensitivity to trans issues is welcome and surprising. Frank mourns her lost gender, and the film includes a surprisingly moving scene in which a doctor explains to her that reversing the surgery is medically impossible — Frank confronts the frustration of permanent gender dysphoria, possibly a first for an action protagonist.
Directed by Walter Hill
Saban Films and Lions Gate
Opens April 7
Available on demand