Valkyrie - Assassins
You kill me
As long-gestating wartime thriller Valkyrie starring Tom Cruise finally gets released, Paul Dale traces our long love affair with the assassin
There’s nothing like an assassination to stave off boredom. From Ancient Rome to modern day America the fundamentalist agenda of the man with the deadly plan has found support in the disparate philosophical writings of Voltaire, Molière, and David Ben-Gurion. The mess of myth appropriation and storytelling that eventually developed into our most prominent cultural forms is rich with tales of the ‘hashashin’ the followers of Hasan-e Sabbah, the head of a secret Persian sect of 11th century Ismaelites who would intoxicate themselves with hashish before murdering opponents. It is through the reiterated and reinterpreted stories of Cassius and Brutus (Julius Caesar’s aristocratic assassins), the Indian Thugee cult, Charlotte Corday (the 24 year old murderer of French revolution architect Jean-Paul Marat), Nathuram Godse (Mahatma Gandhi’s killer), James Earl Ray (Martin Luther King), Lee Harvey Oswald (John F Kennedy) and Mark Chapman (John Lennon) among others that, like Anton Chigurh in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men, Death walks the land, and the movies.
The assassin, good or bad, justified or unjustified (or in the case of Laurence Harvey’s gunman in John Frankenheimer’s wonderful 1962 The Manchurian Candidate, simply hypnotised and delusional) is one of the great staples of cinema. For it is only with this killer elite comes the possibility of retribution and the subsequent ‘closure’ (that most annoying of modern pop psychiatric terms) that will follow. These agents of fortune or foul equilibrium come in all different shapes and sizes – there’s no connection between Frank Sinatra’s twitchy assassin in the compulsive 1954 B-movie Suddenly and Edward Fox’s monikered protagonist in The Day of the Jackal, but one thing is for sure – they are agents of change and the potential freedoms it may engender.
Now director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie have reunited for the first time since 1994’s The Usual Suspects to tell the true story of Colonel Claus Von Stauffenberg, the German aristocrat turned assassin and resistance leader and his involvement with the 20 July 1944 plot to kill Hitler. It’s easy to see what drew Singer to the story, it’s labyrinthine plotting echoing the spooky absurdities of his and McQuarrie’s previous collaboration. Like all natural born filmmakers Singer knows that assassins are good for business, whether they succeed or fail, they offer the audience a game plan and another recalcitrant with a gun to root for.
Triggermen on a mission are hot and always will be. Here’s my list of films featuring some of my favourites – Z, The Proposition, Apocalypse Now, The Killers (1964), The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Professional (1981) and Highlander. If you haven’t seen them stick them on your online rental lists, or make your own list. Join the rest of the world and invite a liquidator into your life.
Valkyrie is on general release from Fri 23 Jan.