Not even a legendary director like Walter Hill (“The Warriors,” “48 Hrs.”) is immune from the aggressions and judgments of today’s self-appointed PC police.
Hill’s latest film, “The Assignment,” is a B-action movie appropriate to the filmmaker’s tastes and talents. This is the man who helped bring “Tales From the Crypt” and the “Alien” franchise to life, after all.
What has earned the film — currently in release digitally and in select theaters — criticism from social groups and those scouring the world for things that may offend them is the subject of its story.
Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) is a hit man. He kills the brother of a mad doctor who exacts revenge on Kitchen in a diabolical and unique way — the doctor forces Kitchen to go through a sex change. Kitchen, understandably, then seeks his own revenge.
It’s ludicrous nonsense that would make for a wonderful pulp novel (Hill actually helped to adapt the movie into a comic book published by a modern-day pulp house) — but some seem to be taking the story a little more seriously than the actual filmmakers have.
“We haven’t read the script, but it’s disappointing to see filmmakers turning what is a life-saving medical procedure for transgender people into a sensationalistic plot device,” GLAAD’s director of programs for transgender media, Nick Adams, told The Hollywood Reporter. “We are at a crucial moment in the public’s understanding of transgender issues, and stories like these have the potential to undermine the progress we’ve worked so hard to achieve.”
Adams has criticized the film while admittedly not even reading the script, so context is nowhere in his thinking. Judging art without the context of story or character or intention is the typical type of faux outrage we can expect from today’s social media-fueled machine of constant complaining.
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A review of the movie by Nico Lang in Salon took things even further by suggesting there were no redeemable qualities in Hill’s work. “The only conceivable use for ‘The Assignment’ is burning all copies of it to heat America’s orphanages, and the orphans would probably request a better movie to warm their hands next to. They have standards.” Lang also took an entire paragraph to compare the movie to fecal matter — saying fecal matter was better because it had useful qualities.
It’s a telling sign about the level of thought put into some of the major criticisms of “Assignment” — and incredibly telling that some of these so-called critics haven’t even bothered to watch the flick or pick up a few pages of its screenplay.
It’s ridiculous. Art is about context, and the context here is that this is not a transgender story. Frank Kitchen is not a transgender person and thus, it has nothing to do with the story or the struggles or the triumphs of transgender people.
Second, everything is up for grabs when it comes to story and creativity. Just as with comedy, nothing should be off limits. Some of the best, most unifying artwork can come from using controversial subjects as launching pads to tell unique stories.
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Luckily, Hill has not taken the criticism of his film lying down. He’s defended his movie and has fought back against trolls in blunt fashion.
“Identity politics are probably the bane of the country currently,” Hill told The Hollywood Reporter, “but storytelling is storytelling. There are no subjects that are sacrosanct, in my opinion, and you just have to be able to defend what you do.”
In an interview with Collider, Hill further explained, “We live [at] a time of identity politics and political correctness. A lot of time people aren’t aware — they so often think their cause is just and therefore harsh methods can be applied to the debate. I don’t agree with that.”
He continued, “The thing about ‘The Assignment’ — for a movie to be attacked and harshly attacked by people before it was seen, I can’t think of anything more intellectually indefensible. I mean — see the movie. If you see the movie and you say it stinks, that’s fine. No problem. Nobody makes movies everybody loves. That’s part of the deal. It comes with the job. But this idea that we’re being judged on the potential subject matter, the potential that the subject might do something that’s perceived as offensive and therefore it is condemned ahead of time seems to me to be ridiculous.”
The last laugh, in the end, will fortunately belong to Hill. The director’s films have suffered from diminishing returns in recent years, and “The Assignment” is receiving more attention than its budget ever would have originally suggested. The criticism and outrage from its detractors will likely only help the B-movie revenge tale. Not only are more people talking about it, but plenty will be inspired to throw in reactionary purchases to help push back against the nonsense of the anti-art and anti-intellectual storm cloud of criticism that has been brought upon the film.