Assassination Tango (2002) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: R for language, sexuality, and some violence
Running Time: 114 min.

Cast: Robert Duvall, Luciana Pedraza, Ruben Blades, Kathy Baker, Julio Oscar Mechoso, James Keane, Katherine Micheaux Miller, Frank Cassavetes  
Robert Duvall
Screenplay: Robert Duvall
Review published January 8 , 2004

Respected actor Robert Duvall (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now) writes and directs for the third time with Assassination Tango, a very curious but interesting merger of two distinct forms of entertainment, the thriller and dancing.  It's a unique film, very uneven in its execution, but very well-acted, especially by the always excellent Duvall.  Duvall casts his real-life girlfriend, Luciana Pedraza in her debut performance, as an Argentinean woman who shows him a few new moves for his dance repertoire with a different local flavor.  Perhaps too quirky for most tastes, there's something about the ambitiousness that's impossible not to like, and with excellent characterizations, what might have been a failed project in anyone else's hands becomes a lively action drama with heart.

Duvall's character is John J. Anderson, a well-traveled hit man who takes a job in Argentina to assassinate a General who committed some heinous acts several years back for which he was never punished.  The job is to take three days max, but due to an accident to his target, he ends up having to wait weeks until the General is released from the hospital before he can proceed with his mission.  In the meantime, he takes to the local clubs to observe the hot dance action, and it is there that he meets Manuela, a local woman who takes a liking for this curious man, agreeing to show him the world of Argentinean tango. 

Duvall wanted to make a film which would showcase the world of tango, constructing a fictional story involving assassinations of former tyrants as a backdrop for that which he really seeks to film.  Either of the stories is fine, with both playing out in their own fashion, and in no hurry to get to a quick conclusion.  By spending equal time in both angles, the overall story becomes a bit lackadaisical in its approach, and there never really seems to be a logical thematic bridge between the two genres.  Still, the dance itself is fascinating to watch, perhaps more so than the assassination build-up. 

With nice character touches, good locale work, and an odd hybrid storyline, Assassination Tango manages to entertain enough to forgive the indulgences of Duvall's meandering story.  With more focused direction and better storytelling technique, this could have been a real gem, instead of just an intriguing curiosity.  Although it's another flawed effort, it makes a good companion piece to John Malkovich's The Dancer Upstairs, another film from 2002 to mix South American politics, assassinations, and the world of dance.  Who knew dancing thrillers would be so hot?

Qwipster's rating:

2004 Vince Leo