Based on the novel by author Barry Eisler, “Dance of the Dragon” director Max Mannix’s 2009 political thriller “Rain Fall” marks the first cinematic adventure of freelance assassin John Rain. Having never read any of the six books in the series, I can’t say for sure whether or not Mannix and crew have faithfully transported the character from the printed page to the big screen. That being said, the film is an exciting, briskly-paced head-scratcher that takes several stylish pages from the last two Jason Bourne movies. Can you guess which ones? If you selected intense fight sequences and needlessly shaky camera work, pat yourself on the back a few times. I think you’ve earned it.
From what I’ve gathered from reading through Eisler’s official website and studying a few lengthy Wikipedia entries on the subject, John Rain is one seriously dangerous individual. In addition to being an accomplished martial artist and a former CIA agent, Rain is an expert in executing assassinations in which the victim appears to have died from natural causes. As with most characters of this nature, John always seems to stay one step ahead of his adversaries, though he’s far from infallible. You may be able to pull the proverbial rug out from under the guy, but there’s a very good chance he’s going to eventually spin the situation in his favor. If you screw him over, you’d better watch your back. Or anything breakable for that matter.
“Rain Fall” is, for the most part, a fairly straightforward action/thriller. The setup is pretty elementary: A handful of shady Japanese bureaucrats have been behaving badly behind-the-scenes, and the specifics of their actions have been secretly recorded by someone who wants to leak the information directly to the press. The CIA and the Yakuza, meanwhile, are exceptionally eager to get their grubby little hands on the USB stick that contains all of this extremely classified gossip, and they’re willing to use whatever means necessary to do so. The monkey wrench, of course, is John Rain. Not only do they believe that he is currently in possession of the aforementioned technology, nobody seems to know how he fits into the puzzle.
The stage is set for a glossy, well-executed game of cat and mouse, complete with double-crosses, fierce hand-to-hand confrontations, and a generous helping of good, old-fashioned intrigue. Mannix, despite his inability to keep the tension high during the film’s slightly bloated midsection, does an admirable job of keeping things lively and on-track for the duration. The fight sequences, of which there are too few, are as brutal, sharp, and kinetic as they come without succumbing to gratuitous violence or hopelessly complicated choreography. There are a few subplots I could have lived without, and the film could easily lose about 10 minutes without compromising anything in the process. The momentum is certainly there, but it could be tighter and a bit more focused.
A major contributor to the film’s overall success is its extraordinary cast, namely Kippei Shiina and Gary Oldman, the latter of whom appears to be channeling James Woods’ over-the-top performance from Luis Llosa’s 1994 actioner “The Specialist”. Oldman chews scenery like a man possessed, which, at times, is both a help and a hindrance. Regardless, the man is a powerhouse, and his overreaching definitely makes for an interesting watch. Shiina, meanwhile, takes a more subdued approach to his role. John Rain never seems to a break a sweat, even when he’s faced with ambushes, shady government officials, and insurmountable odds. It’s the perfect recipe for a smooth, sophisticated anti-hero.
Insignificant nitpicking aside, “Rain Fall” is a solid, well-crafted slice of intrigue and suspense. However, it might be a tough sell for North American audiences, as it boldly paints the United States government as an indescribably evil organization that will do whatever it takes to exploit a shaky political situation. And while this scenario posed no problems for me, I understand why Sony decided to produce the picture in Japan. “Rain Fall” is also a wonderful introduction to the expansive John Rain universe, a thrilling, action-packed world I’m fairly anxious to explore on paper and on film. As long as Kippei Shiina returns for a sequel, I’ll be more than happy to investigate a sequel. The sooner, the better.
Max Mannix (director) / Max Mannix (screenplay)
CAST: Kippei Shiina … John Rain
Gary Oldman … Holtzer
Kyoko Hasegawa … Midori
Misa Shimizu … Yuko