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Assassination Tango

8 October 2002 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Toronto International Film Festival

Encouraged by all the accolades heaped upon 1997's "The Apostle", multitasker Robert Duvall again serves as director, writer, star and co-producer on "Assassination Tango", an undeniably inspired if occasionally bumpy ride.

Determined to find a way to put his passion for the Argentine tango up on the big screen, Duvall has crafted a story that is nothing if not unique -- it's part gritty crime thriller, part dance-driven romance, part evocative character study.

While those diverse parts don't always coalesce, Duvall's performance is a fully dimensional, richly robust keeper.

But aside from drawing tango enthusiasts (and acting students), it won't be enough guarantee the MGM/United Artists release a decent following without enthusiastic reviews, and those notices will likely be as mixed as the picture's various components.

Duvall's John J. is definitely a colorful bit of business. A paranoid hit man with a short fuse and a loving devotion to the young daughter Katherine Micheaux Miller) of his girlfriend, Maggie (Kathy Baker), John enjoys busting a move at a local Brooklyn dance hall between "assignments" from his boss, Frankie (Frank Gio).

The latest sends him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where he's hired to carry out a hit on a retired Argentine general. He's briefed on the situation by Miguel (Ruben Blades), who explains that the man was responsible for the death of many innocent people, including the son of an elderly couple seeking vengeance.

But John J. doesn't need any rationalization. He just wants to ice the guy, get paid and go back home. Unfortunately, when his intended victim unexpectedly delays his anticipated return to Buenos Aires, John J. finds himself with a lot of downtime.

Wandering into a hole-in-the-wall tango club one day, he becomes enthralled by the captivating moves of the beautiful Manuela (the captivating Luciana Pedraza), who draws him into the sensual, mysterious world of tango.

It's nice to see someone at Duvall's stage of life wearing his passion on his sleeve, but that tricky bullet/ballet balance is frequently thrown out of whack by fantasy dance sequences that tend to derail plot progression.

As a showcase for Duvall's acting abilities, "Assassination Tango" always puts its best foot forward. His John J. is a wonderfully complex mix of tough-guy bravado and quirky vulnerability. And whether the character knows it, he's also pretty funny.

Making her screen debut, Argentinian native Pedraza has an exotic, very natural screen presence as Duvall's beguiling dance instructor, while Baker and Blades do their usual dependable work.

The international flavor is nicely captured by a seasoned European and Latin American crew.



United Artists presents an American Zoetrope production in association with Butchers Run Films

A film by Robert Duvall


Director-screenwriter: Robert Duvall

Producers: Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner

Executive producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Linda Reisman

Director of photography: Felix Monti

Production designer: Stefania Cella

Editor: Stephen Mack

Costume designer: Beatriz di Benedetto

Music: Luis Bacalov

Music supervisor: Charlie Feldman


John J.: Robert Duvall

Miguel: Ruben Blades

Maggie: Kathy Baker

Manuela: Luciana Pedraza

Frankie: Frank Gio

Jenny: Katherine Micheaux Miller

Running time -- 114 minutes

MPAA rating: R


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