By William Wolf

ASSASSINATION TANGO  Send This Review to a Friend

Robert Duvall gives another in his series of effective performances in the unusual "Assassination Tango," which was showcased at the 2002 Toronto International film Festival, where I saw it. Duvall, who wrote, directed and co-produced the film, stars as a hit man sent to Argentina to do a dangerous job.

The twist is that John, the assassin, proceeds with calm, methodical work, which he doesn't like to talk about, in sharp contrast to the personal life he leads in his relationship with a woman (Kathy Baker) and her child, on whom he dotes obsessively. It is a portrait of a character who compartmentalizes himself into two different people, one a killer for hire, the other a gentle soul. He views the current assignment as a last one before calling it quits.

While in Argentina, he becomes fascinated with tango dancing and he learns steps from the beautiful dancer Manuela (Luciana Pedraza). "If I were younger, would I have a chance with you?" he asks her. "You have a chance now," she replies. "Welcome to Argentina." The sensuous tango dancing gives yet another aura to this odd film.

Meanwhile, John's hit assignment becomes more complicated and he must use all his wiles to pull off the job and escape. The film is unusual in its celebration of tango mixed with thriller elements, as well as providing a personal portrait. The target for assassination is related to vengeance for the murderous deeds that haunt Argentina's past. But Duvall's character is not political. He has a job to do, and he has to outsmart those who would thwart his mission. He trusts nobody, only his own perceptions and instincts.

Duvall is terrific as the star, and as director he tells the story straightforwardly. Obviously, there'll be those who will have trouble with a sympathetic assassin as a hero. Too bad, but this is an absorbing, understated film made with Duvall's sense of what is intriguing in terms of character, situation and location. A United Artists/MGM release.


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