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Assassination Tango

Genre: , ,

Cast: Robert Duvall, Kathy Baker, Luciana Pedraza

Director: Robert Duvall

Rated: R

Release Date: December 5th, 2003
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Overall Grade: D

Assassination Tango

Review By: Staff

Assassination Tango

Review by: Alysa Salzberg


I feel as exhausted as someone who's been dancing the night away.

In actuality, I've just finished watching Robert Duvall's Assassination Tango. The fact that I just used the phrase "Robert Duvall's Assassination Tango" is really cool. I mean, what a title. And a film with such a title ought to be pretty amusing, right? What I imagined it would be ranged from a too-serious action thriller about a guy who falls in love with a sexy, beautiful tango dancer who then betrays him, or else a quirky, stylish crime comedy à la Elmore Leonard. In reality, this film is neither.

Alright, so let me start with what it's about. This is trickier than it seems. Basically, you've got Robert Duvall playing John J. Anderson, a surly, manly old Brooklynite who's sweetly devoted to his girlfriend (Kathy Baker) and her adorable, surprisingly young daughter (Katherine Michaux Miller). Turns out that, while John's quite the family man by day, by night he's a hitman. Delightful zanyness should ensue. Instead, we get quite the opposite. John is asked to go to Buenos Aires on an assignment to kill a corrupt government official (here this is not at all presented like Bruckheimer movie it seems). Once there, his love of tango deepens as he meets this tango dancer named Manuela (Luciana Pedraza), who looks kind of like an emaciated Sandra Bullock. So, okay, I figured the movie would turn into some sensual thing or something like that, but though he thinks it's okay to sleep with a dubiously skanky prostitute, John never crosses the line with Manuela, much as she seems to want him to (props to Duvall, who also wrote this movie: even John figures he's too old for her). I guess this is all in the way of character development. I'm not sure.

Anyway, very little of what I told you about in the above paragraph seems at all important in the end. See, I'm trying to make sense of it all, and here's what I figure: Robert Duvall decides he likes Buenos Aires/Argentinean culture/the tango, and he wants to make a movie about it. Now, some of Assasination Tango's scenes are shot like a documentary, with long, informative bits of dialogue. So I'm thinking that on some level, Duvall wanted to just really do this thing that way. No fake stories or characters, just the tango and the beautiful streets of Buenos Aires. But the American public are not willingly going to go to a docu on that. Heck, even Michael Moore's amazing Bowling for Columbine didn't sweep the entire mainstream portion of the nation as it rightly deserved to and should have. So, Duvall's like, "Okay, I gotta think. I'm smart, I'm resourceful.

I'll write a flimsy story, one that sounds really cool to potential viewers, and then I'll screw them early on and leave them watching tango and learning about the Buenos Aires nightlife. Ha ha!" If this was truly his intention, I guess he succeeded.

After seeing the film, I'm left with confusion, disappointment, and very little else. It's like I've come down off this big high. Sure there were gangsters, sure there were (small) guns, sure there were great dancers, sure there was some good dialogue. But what's the point of it all? For all that, I feel like I invited Robert Duvall to dinner and he brought over the video tape of his latest vacation in Argentina. Like most vacation videos, Assassination Tango has its highlights, but is most often insufferably boring. Several times, I found myself more enthralled by the weave of my carpet than by the empty, plodding plotting happening on screen.

Okay, but what about the tango, which seems to be the most important thing in the movie? Well, some reviewers might say scenes spotlighting the dance were beautifully shot. I, however, found little beauty in them. The dancers were amazing, and I was dazzled by their work, but as for the element of filmmaking here, there was no real beauty to be seen besides what was there naturally. Thus we return to the documentary/vacation video element. If you want a dance scene that will take your breath away in terms of cinematography, I suggest the final scene in the more or less equally dull and mystifying The Dancer Upstairs.

So is there anything to be gotten from Assassination Tango? Well, there's the fun title. Try this: tell your friends you're watching a movie. They'll probably be like "What movie?" (unless they've just left you for dead in a ditch somewhere…in which case they probably aren't your "friends" at all). Then go, "Assassination Tango." For real, it's fun. If you like this, imagine if you added a colon, so that it wasn't Assassination Tango, but Assassination: Tango. I don't know why, but that cracks me up every time I think about it.

Besides this, I guess I'd say Assassination Tango gives us a nice glimpse of the city of Buenos Aires. You can tell that Duvall cares about this place. Like anyone who loves a city or town, he lingers over its beauty, and appreciates and laughs gently at its little quarks, like a sports center with a different, often antithetical activity taking place on each floor (the brute violence of boxing on the top floor, and the dexterous, stylized movements of tango below).

Oh "” one more beneficial thing "” John dresses pretty hip for an older man, and I think senior citizens should

take a cue from this. I mean, it could be just another indication of his disgust at getting old, but it doesn't matter "” Duvall looks pretty darn good. He also gets my award for Best Hair on an Older Man "” I'm not a fan of ponytails on guys, but he has this little one "” a queue I think they called it in the good old days of the 18th century "” and his hair just looks very put-together and nice. So, I guess if you want to give Grandpa a hint about how to look sexy again, or if you've got a crush on Robert Duvall, this is a good movie for you.

Overall, Assassination Tango is a curious project. It offers very little in the Assassination department, but a nice amount of dialogue and visuals in the Tango area. You can call the movie many things, but it shouldn't be called a thriller, and, if it had been done right, it would have been a documentary. Ah, hey, at least Robert Duvall and Buenos Aires look good.

Movie Grade: D

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