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The Assignment (Blu-ray Review)

Its kind of a crazy world that we live in now with some of our legendary directors. William Friedkin (Director of The Exorcist and The French Connection) can’t get funding to make films, Martin Scorsese’s big reunion with Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci that also has Al Pacino will be on Netflix and someone like Walter Hill has his movies coming straight to video.  Granted, Hill’s track record of late hasn’t been quite there, its just odd to think of sometimes. The Assignment, starring Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver and Tony Shalhoub, is his first film in four years, too. This, following the Sylvestor Stallone / Jason Mamoa misfire Bullet To The Head (Which is actually kind of enjoyable in a trashy way) finds the director taking a unique spin on the noir/hitman film. You can check out the movie when it comes to Blu-ray June 6th.

Film 

Hit man Frank Kitchen is given a lethal assignment, but after being double-crossed, he discovers he’s not the man he thought he was — he’s been surgically altered and now has the body of a woman. Seeking vengeance, Frank heads for a showdown with the person who transformed him, Dr. Rachel Kay, a brilliant surgeon with a chilling agenda of her own.

I really wanted to like The Assignment, I did. It had a lot of great factors; Walter Hill, Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, an interesting concept paired with the bold decision to have Rodriguez play a man. But, it just didn’t work and it comes off really goofy. The film also feels like it could have been the victim of being confined to such a small budget. There are restrictions and a sense claustrophobia that comes from being in boring, similar rooms inside the whole film.

Walter Hill revisits his comic book transition style he used in The Warriors director’s cut from years ago with this film. Unfortunately, that’s some of the most pep this film has. The film features far too many expositional conversations and people hanging in the same stagnant, plain rooms just hanging around and conversing. There are some kills and such, but it just needs an energy shot in the arm. Rodriguez seems game, but it just never lets itself unleash.

Speaking of Rodriguez, she’s made a bold choice in taking the role. Not because of any sort of taboo subject matter, its just that its a tough role to accomplish. As a man, the make-up effects department just didn’t do her any favors. Now, when you see her as a man with full frontal nudity, it looks impressive. However, the face looks super goofy and like Michelle Rodriguez is trying to pass as this in a raucous comedy. Her level of commitment helps sell it to some degree, but I can see some people crying about it being ridiculous.

The Assignment has a really great, interesting, weird and bold idea but it just isn’t able to execute upon that. Or it may just be a stronger idea or conversation than it is a film. Michelle Rodriguez gives it her best and Sigourney Weaver crushes it in what really is just a kind of paycheck role that we see from the likes of Ray Liottas, Malcolm McDowells and the like in modern times. To be positive though, its great to see Walter Hill still working and still coming up with some provocative and unique ideas that no one else is really doing. Here’s hoping his next film can be more a rebound after this one and Bullet to the Head.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The Assignment features a rather par for the course (in terms of Lionsgate) image in its transfer on its Blu-ray debut. Its rock solid with crisp clarity and details. Clothing textures, wrinkles and patterns all come through quite nicely. The room where Tony Shalhoub questions Sigourney Weaver looks really good in its shading and attention to detail on flooring, walls and straight jackets. Its a pretty strong modern digital image as is and should be expected.

Depth:  The film features an above average dimensional look to it. Characters are free of their background and move naturally with no real blurring or jitter issues with frantic movement.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and rich. Most of this movie, especially the Michelle Rodriguez portions, are in dark rooms. Hair follicles and textures on dark clothes and surfaces still come through good. At a couple points there was some murkiness. No crushing witnessed during this viewing of the film.

Color Reproduction: This isn’t a really colorful movie, but it does do some strong work on natural browns and grays. I did think the whites and its palette, shades and tints look pretty impressive in this image.

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are natural and consistent, staying the same from beginning to end. Facial details come in great from close to medium shots as wrinkles, stubble, lip texture and blemishes come through. As ridiculous as I called Rodriguez male facial prosthetic and such, they hold up very well in this image.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 5.1 DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics: The Assignment comes with a rather standard 5.1 track. This is a talk heavy movie, so it doesn’t really move, shake or boom like an action movie.  However, the mix is really good and free, featuring a healthy balance between the vocals, special effects and scoring in the film. Said effects feature a pretty good sense of layering and depth in their sound.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: Gunshots, crashing, doors slamming and some more vibracious moments in the score rumble the subwoofer.

Surround Sound Presentation: This one is a more front reliant track with the rear speakers primarily providing ambiance. Tracking from right to left and back again is accurate and moves with good ease.

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are clear and crisp with good audibility and accurate placement at all times in the film.

Extras 

The Assignment comes with the DVD edition and an UltraViolet digital copy of the film.

Filmmaker Portraits (HD, 2:12) – A montage of on set pictures from the film. It starts with Michelle Rodriguez voice over that opens the film.

Summary 

The Assignment, at heart, is a really thoughtful, progressive and innovative take on a commonly visited genre, it just doesn’t all come together.  This Blu-ray features a really great video transfer to go along with a rock solid 5.1 audio track. All you get as an extra is a photo gallery that is a bit of a yawner. Walter Hill’s latest is a mere rental or wait for it on your streaming service of choice kind of movie for those curious.  And if you’re going to buy, hold off for this to hit a $5 bin.

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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