Posted on Wednesday, January 25th, 2017 by Jacob Hall
If The Assignment was released in the ’70s, its ridiculous, politically incorrect premise would have ensured it a cult following for years to come. But this is 2017, so a thriller about a hitman forced to undergo gender reassignment surgery by a vengeful physician is (let’s break out the “P” word) problematic. There’s a conversation to be had about this: does the simple passage of time allow us to accept yesterday’s trash as something endearing and quaint? If director Walter Hill, who has been making movies since 1975, directed this 40 years ago, would it inspire an instant cringe?
I’m not going to make any sweeping proclamations until I get around to actually seeing this one, but I can’t help but admire the audacity of its mere existence, even as my brain is on fire with how wrong it all feels.
Hill is, of course, something of a legend. Making The Driver, The Warriors, Southern Comfort, 48 Hrs., Last Man Standing, and the pilot episode of Deadwood goes a long way to canceling out the likes of Supernova and Bullet to the Head. If anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt, it’s him.
But this is still a movie about a nutty doctor (played by Sigourney Weaver) who avenges her dead brother by transforming a hitman named Frank into a woman, an elaborate and expensive revenge that doesn’t leave her victim unable to seek their own vengeance. And since post-surgery Frank is played by Michelel Rodriguez, you know there’s going to be a fair deal of vengeance.
As for the trailer itself…if looks like direct-to-video junk? It could be a poorly edited preview meant to appeal to the lowest common denominator, but there’s not much to latch on to here beyond “Holy hell, they actually made this movie?” If The Assignment does work, if Hill has managed to craft some kind of late-career gem, it’ll be because it’s great trash, not because it’s boring trash.
Naturally, The Assignment caused a bit of a stir when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival last year (where it was called (Re)Assignment), with many people wondering if Walter Hill’s “transgender action movie” took things too far. Others argued that the film isn’t actually a “transgender action movie” because Rodriguez’s character isn’t actually transgender, but a man forced into a gender-reassignment surgery. At the very least, The Assignment will get people talking, even if every conversation ultimately revolves around “How does this exist?”
There is no release date yet for The Assignment. Here’s the description of the film from TIFF:
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The jaw drops once the outrageous audacity of (Re)Assignment‘s premise sinks in. The doctor (Sigourney Weaver) is a brilliant but unhinged cosmetic surgeon, first seen straitjacketed in an interrogation room. Calmly, and not without pride, she recounts to her psychiatrist (Tony Shalhoub) how she got there. A lowlife killer named Frank Kitchen killed her brother, so she took her ultimate revenge. She captured him and conducted full gender-reassignment surgery. Now Frank (Michelle Rodriguez) is forced to face the world as a woman. Confused, pissed off, and as macho as ever, she’s out for her own vengeance.
Shot with seemingly effortless style, and making use of a graphic-novel framing device, (Re)Assignment embraces its genre origins. Frank knows her way around a gunfight, and Hill revels in the satisfying precision of her executions. And yet, in the doctor’s cerebral pronouncements on identity and in Frank’s post-surgery evolution, Hill confronts the gender binary on which so much genre cinema is based. As the story propels Frank toward her inevitable showdown with her nemesis and maker, it becomes ever clearer that this is a Walter Hill movie for our times. And a western, probably.