John Anderson (Robert Duvall) is a hired assassin. Working in his old-school New York neighborhood, John makes his killings to support his girlfriend (Kathy Baker) and her daughter, whom he loves dearly. John is summoned to Argentina to make a hit on a local political figure, working with a shady local (Ruben Blades) to make arrangements for the kill. When his target’s arrival is unexpectedly delayed by two weeks, John decides to take in the sights, finding a lonely tango club, and a dancer named Manuela (Luciana Pedraza), with whom he becomes instantly smitten.
“Assassination Tango” (IMDb listing) is Robert Duvall’s hotly anticipated directorial follow-up to his warmly received 1997 film, “The Apostle.” “Tango” is a trickier film, with an artistic core of the tango dance in the middle of a very tepid and routine thriller plot. Duvall seems to understand that he’s asking quite a bit of mainstream audiences to sit through a picture about dance, and throws in action to ease the blow. But what isn’t anticipated is how lovely the tango scenes are, thus negating the excess within the rest of the film.
Filmed with grace and reverence, Duvall approaches the tango scenes with the utmost respect the dance commands. They end up being the lifespring within the picture, and undoubtedly Duvall’s main obsession. He also provides a calm travelogue of Argentina, reveling in the richness of its culture and the beauty of Buenos Aries. It’s not that the tough guy assassin act hurts the film, it just takes away concentration from the softer, more artistic side of the story. And when the bullets started flying in the final act of the film, I wanted to return to the dance and the city streets.
In directing himself, Duvall allows his acting to free-flow in the picture. Duval-the-actor, only seems to liven up in films from Duvall-the-director, forcing himself to put away his poker-faced meditation and actually make facial gestures. “Tango” isn’t Duvall’s strongest work, but it takes him out of the humdrum repetition of his recent performances and challenges him in a way other directors are afraid to. In the co-star role, newcomer Luciana Pedraza is a real find, mixing a very natural presence with the reason she’s in the film: her gorgeous dancing. Duvall and Pedraza share a very easy chemistry, taking away the creepiness factor of their real life May-December relationship. Duvall films every scene in a very matter-of-fact way, especially the courtship moments between the two actors. Because of this, the scenes feel unusually natural, like you’re witnessing an honest-to-God fantastic first date. It also adds much needed warmth to the film.
“Assassination Tango” is a bizarre film that, if not entirely challenging Duvall’s artistic skills, it is at least taking his filmography in new, exciting directions. Fans of the tango should not miss this.
Filmfodder Grade: B