The hit-man genre isn’t going anywhere anytime soon: see the success of recent flicks like Red and The Mechanic and the headlines about the movie Kill List for proof. And it’s worth remembering that assassins are people, too: though their profession and methods make them seem like emotionless machines, incapable of sympathy or mercy, professional killers have feelings. Sure, they have to sleep with one eye open, sometimes sitting in a chair, but that’s just a consequence of the job. Killing isn’t who they are; it’s what they do. Our top ten assassins have sympathetic emotional sides that contrast with their cold-blooded personae.
Every man needs two basic things — a craft and a woman. For Jack, killing and gun-making are his crafts, but he lacks the latter. It can be hard for an assassin to trust someone when he’s always watching his back, but a prostitute with a heart of gold teaches him that he doesn’t have to be alone. An assassin can run for only so long before his number is up, but Jack has the chance to love in the end. That’s all a man can really hope for.
Pierce Brosnan trades his license to kill for a Speedo and a pair of cowboy boots as the down-on-his-luck assassin Julian Noble. Though he might be emotionally unstable, Julian is still a master craftsman of the kill, even when he’s on a bender and more focused on hookers than his mark. To get out of his funk, Julian enlists the help of businessman Danny Wright (Greg Kinnear) for one last hit. The Matador proves that even killers need a friend.
For the Lone Man in director Jim Jarmusch’s Limits of Control, taking a life requires strict discipline and snazzy suits. No guns, no girls, and no games. He follows his code to a T and always insists on separate cups for his two espressos. Though he’s rooted in routine, his methods are metaphysical. When questioned about how he penetrated a heavily armed fortress to hit his target, he responds only with, “I used my imagination.”
7. Lee Harvey Oswald (Gary Oldman), JFK
The most infamous assassin on the list is the one rooted in a painful American memory. Whether you agree or disagree with director Oliver Stone’s theory of the Kennedy assassination, you can’t deny that Gary Oldman delivers an unnerving performance as Lee Harvey Oswald. Patsy or not, Oldman’s complex Oswald painted a picture of a man who was unstable, to be sure, but planted the seed of doubt that he could not have done it alone.
Forget Ghost Dog: hit man Jef Costello found guidance in the teachings of ancient samurai long before director Jim Jarmusch’s assassin hit the screen. And Costello does it with the cool style of the French New Wave of the sixties that we all envy and occasionally emulate, except for the killing part. It’s more style than substance, but most assassins prefer quiet kills to verbose soliloquies. Costello has grace under pressure, even when pursued by undercover policemen. It must be his cool hat.
While most kids have trouble explaining what their parents do as actuaries or bank managers, 12-year-old Michael Sullivan Jr. (Tyler Hoechlin) opts to keep his mouth shut after discovering that his dad is a hit man. As a father protecting his son, Hanks shows us the softer side of professional murderers. The killer pursuing the pair, Harlen Maguire (Jude Law), is a more familiar, albeit psychopathic, assassin who enjoys photographing his victims.
4. Chev Chelios (Jason Statham), Crank
Professional killer Chev Chelios is having his worst day ever. Karma has caught up with Chelios in the form of the Bangkok cocktail — a poison that kills him by cutting off his adrenaline. As with many assassins, revenge is his motivator; he keeps his heart pumping by running, screwing, and killing. Chelios is unrestrained mayhem, not bound by conventional killing rules or codes. He’s also the fastest assassin on the list — but only because his life depends on it.
While most would point to calculated “cleaner” Léon (Jean Reno) as a heavy hitter, 12-year-old Mathilda is far more dangerous. Between her disarming girlie charm and dead aim with a paintball gun, she has the hunger and ambition to become a professional killer. Her only weakness is her rush to lose her innocence. There’s plenty of killing time when you’re an adult — this future assassin should spend more time playing dress up.
Hertz could be an excellent hit man if he’d only hang up the phone. It’s hard to get the job done when you keep getting interrupted by your nagging wife. Hertz’s mark becomes the carrot-eating, coffee-drinking, sharpshooting Smith (Clive Owen), who prevents Hertz from knocking off a woman and her baby. It’s hard to feel sorry for this attempted baby murderer after he’s disposed of by the talented Smith, bu
t you have to admire his dedication to his wife.
1. Fox (Angelina Jolie), Wanted
If looks could kill, Angelina Jolie would be one of the screen’s most successful assassins. But they can’t, so she uses a gun. Wanted uncovers a secret society of assassins, but Fox is the clear standout. Sure, she can curve a bullet and walks around barely covering herself with a towel, but it’s Fox’s horrific childhood memory of her father being killed that makes her the movie’s tragic focus. Her loss humanizes her. Though many of us have lost loved ones and not turned to killing as a profession, we can understand her pain.