The soon to be produced independent feature 'Assassins' started life as director Michael Bonomo’s eighth short film and is his sixth to be released. It has been met with critical acclaim since doing the rounds on the festival circuit last year.
The project came about due to the good fortune of good timing with the filmmaker’s first meeting with the hugely talented character actor Bill Oberst Jr. at a networking event a year prior to the writing of the script. Bonomo had seen Oberst Jr.’s turn in ‘Dismal’ (2009) and impressed with his performance in that piece of B movie schlock and his meeting with the man wrote for him the role of the short’s veteran professional assassin Nathan. Their collaborative effort made for easier progression towards pre-production but due to Bill Oberst Jr.’s busy schedule it made the shoot very tight with just a day to film all of his scenes that made up almost the entire 9-minutes of the piece. This is Michael Bonomo’s first attempt at telling a dialogue driven story. This is a challenge he deliberately set himself to stretch his filmmaking talents as his previous short works told their narratives through the expressions of images with minimal lines spoken or with no dialogue at all as in Unsaid. You can watch the short film version of 'Assassins' at the end of this review.
‘Assassins’ tells the tale of a meeting one night between the said seasoned hitman Nathan (Oberst Jr.) and a newcomer to the profession Walter (Vincente DiSanti) set during the immediate aftermath of his first assignment taking place in the apartment of the young woman who was his victim. The meeting is fated not to end well for one of them.
As the opening credits appear against a black screen, we hear the nocturnal sound of crickets accompanied by the sounds of distant on-going traffic and a helicopter flying by establishing the night setting. Fading in after the title card the first shot of the film is an extreme close-up of the right side of Nathan’s face. As he looks down the camera goes to a shot of a digital clock on a car’s dashboard. As the time turns to precisely 8:00 pm, the camera goes back to its original position and Nathan coolly says to himself “Times up”. With that, he gets out of his car and makes his way up the steps of the apartment building and through its entrance.
We now cut to a shot of a handgun on the seat of a toilet and we are then introduced to Walter (DiSanti) sitting down on the floor of the bathroom of the woman’s apartment. This is inter-cut with the action of Nathan opening the front door walking slowly through the living room and into the kitchen and calmly fixing himself a glass of water. This is when Walter hears the presence of someone else as the tap on the sink is turned off putting his ear to the bathroom door just as Nathan takes off his jacket and sits down at the kitchen table facing the window with his back to the rest of the kitchen waiting for Walter to come out. With gun in hand, Walter creeps up behind Nathan and as soon as he gets close to him, he points his gun to the back of his head taking off the safety and all Nathan does is lift up his glass and takes a sip of his water. Thus begins his monologue.
The dialogue Bonomo has written for his lead is of a noirish quality. Bill Oberst Jr. delivers it with assured confidence as his character Nathan explains his reciprocal notion of a young man losing his virginity with a woman in imperfect fashion in an effort to become a man in relation to the novice assassin Walter’s first hit that has gone horribly wrong. This is a life lesson for the newbie triggerman who may have made a wrong career decision in the teaching that a gun does not give a man power and that the power comes from how the man controls the gun. Supplementing this are flashbacks of Walter’s killing of the woman seamlessly integrated with Oberst Jr.’s chillingly imposing performance. He commands every scene with his domineering presence with supreme conviction as a cold weary man that belongs to a different world - a dark side of life - someone who has been there done that and seen it all with nothing surprising him as this world is normal to him.
The torturous psychological aspects are presented thick, strong with pitch-perfect execution from both the director’s tightly controlled pacing, and right on the mark moments of timing aided by the efficient editing by Heather Goodwin and the two players’ chemistry who bounce off each other very well. All this combines to make for tense taut viewing. The enhancement of the atmosphere is provided by the highly attractive cinematography by Noel Maitland with some truly inspired shots and angles on a 16:9 widescreen format and an effectively subtle musical score by Kristen Baum whose previous credits include ‘The Uninvited’ (2009), ‘The Book of Eli’ (2010) and ‘Priest’ (2011).
The production values are very high on such a low-budget and an equally limited shooting schedule making it one helluva of an achievement that it turned out to be this slick. With the feature film version going into production this August with a screenplay by David Grant the writer of the genre site Films That Witness Madness that promises to delve deeper into the character of Nathan and will entail a deadly game of cat-and-mouse just imagine what all this combined talent can pull off with more resources at their disposal.
You can watch ‘Assassins’ here…
For more information and regular updates on the production of the feature length ‘Assassins’ and to watch the rest of his work visit Michael Bonomo’s official website.
*** out of ****
Dave J. Wilson
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