The first time I saw Mrs. Smith, she was lying next to me on the side of a bus. Later that same day… I spotted her husband on the side of another one. De rigueur as it is for Hollywood movie stars, each of them had a gun – silver in their case, a fashion accessory offsetting their chic, black evening attire. Like jewelry almost: Brad Pitt held his, Angelina Jolie had hers strapped to her thigh. Together they presented us with the defining image of an elegant, sophisticated, tastefully-armed American couple ready for a night on the town; the image in fact that we’d all been waiting for. Here at last was the pay-off to a media barrage that had endured for months. By now there was hardly a consumer alive who wasn’t aware that the making of Mr. & Mrs. Smith was the event that had upset Pitt’s real life marriage and outed him and Jolie as an item. Now at last we could see what all the fuss was about. The elaborate foreplay was over. Two of Hollywood’s most bankable Barbies were finally about to get it on.
Barbie of course is a flippant characterization. Standing in line in the supermarket and flipping through magazines from The National Enquirer to Time, I’d learned that Angelina Jolie was in fact a Special Ambassador to the United Nations. A woman hobnobbing with Kofi Annan no less and in her own words traveling around the world “looking for refugee situations to report on.” This was a noble pursuit without question, but one that didn’t seem to jive with the picture on the side of the bus – it’s after all what supposedly qualified her for the job. It was part of her resume, the way she chose to express herself. It was what she did for a living. What then makes someone who advocates mindless, gratuitous violence to millions, a person qualified to address the needs of victims of real violence around the world?
In Mr.& Mrs. Smith Pitt and Jolie play a husband and wife who are contract killers, or as the teaser on the DVD package would have it: “…coolly lethal, highly paid, assassins.” The Kennedys, Martin Luther King and John Lennon were assassinated, but now apparently the profession was cool. The ’irony’ is that neither of them is aware that they’re both in the same line of business. It’s a marriage that lacks a degree of intimacy so to speak, and inevitably after “five or six years” it leads them to therapy. Watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have sex is the reason most of the audience is there, so whatever it takes to bring that about is fine. Like the human Bugs Bunny cartoon it is, that ‘whatever’ is violence.
Pitt’s manager, who lives with his mother, sets the tone: When asked how things are going that morning he replies: “Same old, same old. People need killing.” It’s a fun business obviously, but a little on the humdrum side. To give us some idea of how it works we’re then introduced to a half dozen examples of such “people.”
Pitt’s victims play cards in a ‘back room’ and their crimes are not specified. They’re a mix of Englishmen and Irishmen. With a gun in each hand, like a cartoon Western star, our cool Mr. Smith, shoots all four of them with as much detachment as someone shooting straw bales. He even makes a quip as he’s leaving, punctuating the scene with a joke.
His wife on the other hand, at least identifies the nature of her target’s crime: “Selling guns to bad people,” she admonishes her swarthy, Middle Eastern looking client – reading him his wrongs as it were, before nonchalantly snapping his neck. She wears an S&M outfit to add sauciness to the scene in keeping with the “…fun, explosive mix of wicked comedy” we are led to anticipate from the ads.
When the couple is assigned to “take out” the same target, they finally discover they are competitors in the same line of work, at which point the real excitement begins. Each now determines to kill the other, and more wicked comedy erupts in their home. The ensuing firefight results in the interior of the house being demolished and when the ammunition runs out, the couple resorts to kicking and punching one another. (I was told that prison inmates in upstate New York love this film. “They know it off by heart.”) One memorable scene has husband Pitt repeatedly kicking his wife as she lies on the floor.
They ultimately reach a stand off, guns pointed at each other’s faces, which prompts them to realize that they actually love one another. The diddling is over. The audience finally has what it’s been waiting for: Pitt and Jolie can get down to business. Unlike the violence, however, which is meticulously detailed in its representation, the sex isn’t shown at all. When they’re done, the lovers combine their talents to wreak havoc on the companies that employ them. Many people – in the most fun, elaborate and spectacular ways – are killed as a result.
With Pitt in the sack and the film in the can, the Ambassador moves on: flush from her experience as Mrs. Smith, she opts for another cool assassin gig.
Wanted appears to be have been inspired by the way David Beckham kicks soccer balls, the premise being that the muzzle velocity of a bullet can be countered by a flick of the wrist, enabling those with the knack to shoot around corners. It’s a gimmick that justifies relentless computer generated images of slow-motion bullets meandering through the air, and in and out of the heads of yet another succession of well-deserving bad guys. Angelina Jolie’s role is to explain such tricks of the trade to a dull young “nothing” and turn him into an equally ruthless killer. The idea of a non-accountable, anonymous corporation of vigilantes remains the same, the nature of the evildoers is equally vague, and the methods required to deal with them equally graphic, and unrelenting. On one occasion, a train full of innocent men, women and children is casually wiped out in the interests of moving the excitement forward. True to form, the Ambassador’s breasts contribute their familiar ‘sauciness’ to the endeavor.
Just as it is with Mr.& Mrs. Smith, the story is as irrelevant as the plot to a video game or a Looney Tunes cartoon. There’s no point to the rabbit getting run over by the steamroller or Wile E. Coyote swallowing dynamite, it’s simply a pretext for violence. The success of the movie relies on the novelty and degree of the violence involved – violence, after all, is what gets you laid. Spelling that out, however, has its drawbacks. As one exuberant critic put it: “Fans of R-rated action fare will dig this flashy romp, but the film’s manic pace and frequent profanities keep Wanted from being an across-the-board crowd pleaser.”
“Fuck” is profanity. A slow motion bullet penetrating someone’s face and emerging in a shower of brains and bone from the back of the head is not.
What do the folks in the refugee camp think about that?
Malcolm Mc Neill’s first project out of art school was a seven-year collaboration with writer William S. Burroughs. His two books about the experience were published at the end of 2012.
His most recent exhibition of paintings was in New York.