I’ll have to give THE ASSINGMENT credit for coming up with something original to add to the action genre. When I think back to all of the films that involve gender reassignment surgery the list is small.
Most of those fall into the exploitation genre with only a few notables in the major release category. Unfortunately little faith was seen in this film and it made its way quickly to satellite and now to DVD.
The opens with Dr. Ralph Galen (Tony Shaloub) sitting down to interview a straight jacketed Dr. Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver). Jane is in the psychiatric ward unable to stand trial due to her apparent insanity. It seems she was arrested in an abandoned hotel, surrounded by the bodies of her bodyguards and an employee. Now Galen is trying to decide if she is competent enough to stand trial or not.
What unfolds is Jane’s tale of what happened and the steps that occurred to bring about her circumstances. It seems that three years ago a professional hit man named Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) was hired by mobsters to kill Jane’s beloved brother. In return she sought revenge on Frank. Hired by mobster Honest John Hartunian (Anthony LaPaglia) Frank waits for instructions, stashes the money he’s been paid and makes the acquaintance of a young lady named Johnnie (Caitlin Gerard).
Honest John sells Frank out to Jane who drugs and takes custody of Frank. When Frank wakes he finds himself covered in bandages. He discovers that not only has he been drugged with no idea who was behind it all but that during the time he was out an operation has been performed on him. Sexual reassignment surgery. Yes, Frank is now a woman but in body only. Jane has left behind a letter explaining what has been done, why, funds to help take care of him and medicine he will now need to take.
Frank heals a bit and then heads out to retrieve his cash and begin a quest to get revenge on all those who have done him wrong. Contacting Johnnie, slightly stunned to see what has happened, Frank begins to track down the group responsible beginning with the crew of Honest John, leading to a confrontation between the two. All of this is merely steps towards his ultimate goal of finding Jane.
This movie could have played in grindhouses across the country in a time when films like these were being churned out by far lesser studios and under the guise of directors with much less skill. But this time around it has the backing of Lionsgate and a director in the form of Walter Hill, one of the best action directors of all time and a personal favorite.
Hill was an amazing director from his first film (HARD TIMES with Charles Bronson) in 1975 and hit his stride in the 80s with movies like THE WARRIORS, SOUTHERN COMFORT, 48 HOURS, RED HEAT and CROSSROADS. As time went by for some reason his films played to smaller audiences and studios backed away. He never stopped making good movies, especially action films, and it was good to see him come up with something original here since he co-wrote the film.
What could have been salacious and tawdry is instead thought provoking. While full frontal nudity might be on display in the film it isn’t used for sensual reasons but instead to show the changes made to the body of Frank Kitchen. What few love or sex scenes there are in the film are brief and show very little. What we are talking about here is less the sexuality of the person transformed as much as the person inside.
Jane’s motivation for changing Frank as opposed to killing him outright is to experiment with him. A discredited doctor who does her work off the books she is curious to see if she can alter this macho persona who kills without remorse into a more feminine and thus more moral person in her mind. Whether she succeeds or not isn’t known until the end.
While Weaver does a great job as the cool and calculated Jane credit must be given to Michelle Rodriguez in the lead role of Frank. Her male persona is a bit less masculine than most men would seem but she pulls it off. Rodriguez has made a career out of playing roles where she leaves little doubt she is feminine while playing characters most would associate as more masculine. She’s always done an amazing job but here she truly must play a woman playing a man who becomes a woman. Not an easy task but she does it well.
Sure, this movie may not be for everyone. If nudity offends you or the thought of those who undergo sexual reassignment disturbs you too much then by all means bypass this film. The fact is that is not the main theme or design of the film. It is more a revenge picture with a twist to it rather than the standard fare. And speaking of twists it provide an excellent one at the end. If you’re willing to take a risk then you might be surprised by this one.
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