If you haven't seen The Hitman's Bodyguard, I'm gonna ruin it for you in this post. You have been warned.
WARNING—this post is Rated R
Because this movie is Rated R, I’m not gonna hold back on my language during this post. If that sounds offensive to you, be the adult and stop reading now.
So... The Hitman's Bodyguard
With just a 30-million-dollar budget, The Hitman’s Bodyguard has already made back all its cash, and then some. With the success of Deadpool, Ryan Reynolds now has the Midas touch. Samuel L. Jackson is no slouch at selling tickets, either. Still, fancy names do not always guarantee box office success.
From where I sit, it’s all about the writing. Want to dig deeper into the financials? Here’s the site I use for insights into the business side of movies: The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
Enough business, what about the critic/fan take on it?
As per what I expected, “professional” critic opinions of this flick are less than stellar. Most trash it. That’s because “professional” film critics are all stuck-up ass-hats filled with bitterness over their own failed abilities to create anything of any entertainment, cultural, or artistic value. So, my advice: never listen to a professional critic.
One the other hand, also as I expected, fans seem pretty damn happy spending their hard-earned money for this 111-minute action film. Find out more on Rotten Tomatoes.
Why the difference? Because it was a fun movie, and critics hate fun. At least, that's my opinion.
What I Thought
As for this fan, I fucking loved it!
Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson fit these two characters like form-fitting spandex superhero suits—and this movie really shows off their tight asses… figuratively… obviously… since neither are wearing spandex in this flick. Both men acted the shit out of these characters. Wonderful acting, spectacular action, and a story that was beautifully written.
Which leads us to the reason we’re all here—the story.
First, this story is structured on top the very timeworn Redemption Story Arc. However, I’m happy to state, Tom O’Connor (Writer) did an amazing job of turning this trope upside-down. Because this is not simple one Redemption Story Arc, but two, both skillfully woven together in an amazing and interesting manner.
And THAT really makes my webbed-toes twitter!
We start out focused on Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds). He’s our Hero, obviously. He’s a bodyguard—one of the good guys—protecting a client. And he’s damn good at his job… which is... you know... protecting clients. Michael Bryce is the best. Perfect. All the way up until his client takes a bullet through the head. There’s so much yummy goodness to this film’s start from a story structure standpoint, it’s crazy.
Let’s look at a bit of it.
State of Perfection
First, the story starts in a State of Perfection—Michael lives in a beautiful house, has a beautiful woman lying in his bed, wears beautiful clothes, drives a beautiful car, etc. When we meet him, he’s clean shaven, well dressed, and in total control. He’s at the top of his game. It’s obvious he’s planned everything, leaving nothing to chance.
This is the part of the story that sets up some very important Benchmarks our readers need. Michael is proficient at his job (POV's skill level). He likes nice things (what’s important to him). He has a woman in his life (what’s important to him). He’s very proud of how well he does his job (what’s important to him). All of these are things the reader needs to know so they can understand what he loses when his story moves into the State of Imperfection. (Remember that client? Remember that bullet that made sweet, sweet love to his brain pan? Yeah, that’s the moment Michael’s story shifts from the SOP to the SOI.)
Best part, all that takes like 90 seconds of screen time to show. Then, BAM! Client is dead.
Fade to black.
Fade in, and we see an unshaven Michael sitting behind the wheel of a beat-up, crappy-looking car, and he’s holding… is that a broken windshield wiper in his hand!? Why the fuck is he holding that?
(This, by the way, is a Plot Device called a Chekhov’s Gun. Normally, this is a bad thing. You never want to have a Plot Device that’s left unexplained. And they never explain what the fuck this windshield wiper has to do with anything. However, this Chekhov’s Gun works really well here, because it’s funny as hell.)
The beauty of this scene is that with a quick glance, the reader knows that Michael has lost EVERYTHING. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am. What an amazingly efficient way to transition from the State of Perfection to the State of Imperfection.
But wait! Johnny, tell them what else they've won!
Remember, I said that’s just one of the two characters who are traveling their own Redemption Story Arcs.
State of Imperfection
So, intro Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson). He’s also amazingly proficient at his job… but unlike Michael, whose job it is to keep people alive, Darius is really, really good at making people dead. And because of this, when we meet him, he’s in prison. A.K.A. starting in a State of Imperfection.
Now, I’m not gonna tell you they did an amazing job at tricking the audience into thinking Darius is a bad guy. It’s as obvious as it could be that he’s an Anti-Hero. (For you kids playing along at home, an Anti-Hero is someone who does good deeds in a morally bankrupt way. As in, their solution to a murder problem is to murder the murderer. Screw the Legal System!) Still, while it was obvious what role Darius was playing, they didn’t even try to hide this fact. In fact, by flaunting the fact that Darius is an Anti-Hero right in the reader’s face, it actually makes the Darius character even MORE interesting for the reader, because now the reader is going to try and figure out how this seemingly irredeemable character is going to become redeemed. A great example of how trying to NOT be clever is very fucking clever indeed.
So, these are redemption stories. Trite. Done to death. Why can’t writers be more creative? (I want to punch people in the face who say things like that. Most of them are critics, who have never created anything, so shut the fuck up.)
The Redemption Story
What is a Redemption Story?
Well, it can mean different things. Traditionally, the trope follows a character who failed spectacularly at something (killed someone accidentally, let someone down, had tons of potential but wasted it, etc.) and then spends the story trying to make up for that. And both characters in this story follow suit with this.
Michael needs to regain his professional status after the death of his client, and Darius needs to take down an evil dictator to make up for some of the blood he’s spilt—over 250 people killed, by his own admission.
The amazing moment, however, and the impressive thing Tom O’Conner did with these supposedly worn out tropes, was to flip the script between the “Good Guy” and the “Bad”. Pay attention to the scene when our “hero” (Michael) makes the realization that he’s not, in fact, the hero. Darius is the real hero.
Though, admittedly, in the very morally bankrupt way of the Anti-Hero.
Still... Mind. Blown.
It really is a beautifully crafted scene. Study it! But none of these things are Themes. I.E., none of that is the Invisible Layer. It’s all Physical Layer elements. Important, to be sure, since the Physical Layer is the Transportation Device of the Invisible Layer. But as I always say, “The only thing that matters to a story is the Invisible Layer.”
So, what are the Themes?
Well, as per how it should be done, since we have two main characters, we have two Major Themes.
For Michael, it’s about understanding what’s really important in life.
In the beginning, he thinks the only thing that matters is his professional success. It’s what got him all those wonderful toys. But that’s all nothing. Worthless. Something that can be lost in a flash, leaving you unshaven, sitting in a beat-up car holding a broken windshield wiper with no idea how you even came by it.
Meaning, his Theme is about coming to understand what’s really important in life—Love. Remember, stories are ALWAYS about Transformation, and Michael does that. He starts as a man who only cares about tangible things, and ends as one who realizes Love is the only thing that’s important in life. Transformation at its finest.
And Darius? Well, he’s lost his humanity.
Nothing matters to him, because life’s just a random series of fucked-up events (his words, not mine). Now, he had humanity at one point—it’s what drove him to become an Anti-Hero. Also, he does have his wife, Sonia Kincaid (Selma Hayek). And he loves her more than anything in the world. More so even than himself. But she’s an anomaly. Outside of her, he’s lost faith in the world and those he shares it with.
Meaning, his Transformation is from a person who has lost his faith in others, to one willing to trust in, and care for, someone else (outside of his wife).
If I have one gripe about this movie’s structure, it’s the Sonia Kincaid character.
Not that she’s bad. She’s not. Her inclusion, however, does weaken the Transformation of the Darius character. I think his story would have been stronger if he’d had no one he loved. That way, you could let the Michael character fill that void completely. No, not in a sexual way. Get your head out of the gutter. Though now, I’m kinda thinking about how awesome a slash fic version of that would be.
Takers? No? Oh, well... perhaps someday...
Back on track…
My point is, had Darius started this story having lost ALL his humanity (I.E., no wife to love), the Transformation would have been so much stronger at the end. Think back to that wonderful 1994 film, The Professional. Léon (Jean Reno), the assassin in that story, had ZERO humanity. Only after Mathilda (Natalie Portman) comes into his life is he able to regain his humanity. Clean. Strong. Wonderful. Because it so impactful upon the reader.
Having the Sonia character included in this story simply isn’t needed, and weakens Darius’ Transformation. Now, I know why she’s included. But I’ll just keep my mouth shut on that issue lest my lips get me into hot water.
Quirky side note: Gary Oldman was the villain in both The Professional as well as The Hitman’s Bodyguard.
The Power of Transformation
The best part is, both story arcs are reliant on the other to succeed in their personal Transformations. Michael could not have Transformed without the help of Darius, and Darius Transformed BECAUSE OF Michael. Spectacular story telling. Tight. Brilliant. Awesome!
In the end, all I can say is, bravo Tom O’Connor. Wonderfully written script. Tom has only written one other movie that was produced, Fire with Fire starring Bruce Willis. Now, I haven’t seen this one yet, but you can bet I will have before you’ve even read this blog post. I just love a screenplay writer who can actually tell a compelling story! And I’m now totally a fan of Tom O’Connor!
A Solid Flashback Scene
But WAIT! There’s more! There this AMAZING Flashback scene that was so expertly done, I nearly cried hot fat tears of joy.
Because you don’t even REALIZE it’s a Flashback scene until it’s over. I’m talking about the scene where the bad guy, Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman), kills that teacher’s wife and child. Breathtakingly executed (pun intended).
It starts in the now, rolls through the now, continues in the now, and only once it’s all over does it dissolve into the courtroom and the reader discovers that what they just witnessed was a man’s testimony about an event that happened in the past. I can’t even express how impressive this scene was.
I’ve never seen a Flashback done better. You want to include a Flashback in your story? Know that it's something I normally hate, and suggest against at all times. However, you do a Flashback as good as this, and I'll tip my hat to ya.
This movie serves up some wonderful examples of why stories work. Amazing look at how to use the Redemption Story Arc as your structure. Great examples of both starting a story in a State of Perfection, as well as starting a story in the State of Imperfection. Lots of yummy examples of how to correctly setup your Benchmarks, so the audience gets the full impact of the Transformation after the Climax is said and done. And a Flashback scene that’s masterfully done.
It also shows you a good example of how muddying the waters of a character’s Transformation by including the wrong elements can weaken your Theme.