Generally speaking, I tend to like my action movies straight-forward, uncomplicated, and relatively free of needless melodrama or intricate plotting. Some of the best examples of the genre are the simplest, be it a balls-out martial arts free-for-all or a tightly-wound revenge flick teeming with brutal intensity. Once you start exploring deep-rooted character motivations and the backstories of everyone in the entire picture, my interest starts to wan, and I’m effectively removed from the proceedings at-hand. As always, there are exceptions, though typically I don’t stray far from this admittedly hair-brained philosophy.
Director Danny Lerner’s dramatic 2009 action/thriller “The Assassin Next Door” (aka “Kirot”) delicately balances the character-oriented drama with the bloody, frequently vicious action that someone as demented as myself craves on a fairly regular basis. In many ways, it is the heir apparent to “La Femme Nikita”, though it’s nowhere near as iconic or as polished as Luc Besson’s genre-defining masterpiece. This is one of those rare action movies that kicks you square in the gut at the last possible second, and while the film’s somewhat downbeat conclusion may not come as a surprise to some, it still delivers a hefty emotional sucker punch that resonates long after all is said and done.
James Bond sex kitten Olga Kurylenko stars as Galia, a misguided prostitute who is desperate to escape the evil clutches of her underworld employers and return to the daughter she left behind. After unsuccessfully fleeing from the bordello where she works, Galia is given an opportunity that could change her life forever: if she will assassinate a few people for her bosses, she can reclaim her passport and a sizable sum of money. Our heroine reluctantly agrees, and soon finds herself knee-deep in the shady business of compensated assassination, a career she executes with varying degrees of success.
In-between assignments, Galia finds the time befriend her next door neighbor Eleanor (Ninette Tayeb), a meek and mild grocery store employee who lives in constant fear of her increasingly abusive husband. The ladies have an almost instant bond, one that allows them both to slowly discover the hidden strengths they need to overcome their complicated personal problems. However, when Galia fails to swiftly exterminate one of her targets, she puts both of their lives in grave danger. With countless underworld goons hot on their trail, the only thing left to do is fight back.
Lerner definitely has a knack for delivering brutal, well-choreographed action sequences. These moments often come in quick, unexpected bursts, nestled gently in-between some surprisingly heartfelt moment involving Galia and Eleanor’s budding friendship. Even during these scenes you can feel the tension growing ever-so slightly, which ultimately builds to a fevered pitch. The final shoot-out inside a crowded city bus is seriously intense, and should leave even the most hardened of action fans with more than a few white knuckles. The whole bloody thing is so well-written and well-balanced that it’s hard to find fault with it. Even the film’s smaller budget isn’t a problem; Lerner seems to know precisely how to make a movie with very little cash. Impressive? You bet.
It’s hard to find action movies like “The Assassin Next Door” on American retail shelves these days. You genuinely care about the characters and their situations, as opposed to simply waiting for the next set piece to explode onto the screen. Making a movie that deftly combines quiet moments of drama and loud, fast, and violent action sequences takes skill, and Lerner has certainly proved he’s capable of delivering the proverbial goods in a neat and tidy cinematic package. Although I still prefer my action flicks glossy, loud, and empty-headed, every once in a while it’s nice to sit down with something like “The Assassin Next Door”. Lerner is a talent to watch, and I strongly suspect we’ll be seeing more great things from him in the future.
Danny Lerner (director) / Danny Lerner (screenplay)
CAST: Olga Kurylenko … Galia
Ninette Tayeb … Eleanor
Lior Habra … Barbie’s Friend
Zohar Shtrauss … Elinor’s Husband
Liron Levo … Roni
Henry David … Peter
Yana Goor … Nina
Vladimir Friedman … Mishka
Shalom Micahelashvili … Michael