There are many types of movies about people who deal in death to make a living. There’s the cold blooded killer story, the revenge drama and even comedic takes on killing for fun and profit. Assassins can be men, women, children and even robots.
In this week’s The American George Clooney plays another kind of murder engineer, the troubled, introspective assassin. There are as many kinds of cinematic killers as there are kinds of weapons for them to use.
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Here’s a look back at the philosophies of some of the screen’s most memorable death merchants.
Charles Bronson, as the skilled slayer in The Mechanic (soon to be remade with Jason Statham and Ben Foster), teaches his young protégé, played by Jan-Michael Vincent, some basic hitman lessons. “Murder is only killing without a license,” he says, adding that when you shoot someone do it right. “You always have to be dead sure. Dead sure or dead.”
That’s key killer advice, but slow down, there is a progression to becoming a hitman. In The Professional Leon (Jean Reno) details the system. “The rifle is the first weapon you learn how to use,” he says, “because it lets you keep your distance from the client. The closer you get to being a pro, the closer you can get to the client. The knife, for example, is the last thing you learn.”
Along the way movie assassins also learn that relationships are verboten. Remember what happened to Mr. and Mrs. Smith (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie)? “Your aim’s as bad as your cooking sweetheart,” taunts John to Jane, “and that’s saying something!”
Day of the Jackal’s would-be Charles de Gaulle assassin (Edward Fox) adds, “In this work you simply can’t afford to be emotional,” although sometimes feelings inevitably get in the way. Just ask Prizzi’s Honor’s Charley Partanna (Jack Nicholson) who memorably said, “Do I ice her? Do I marry her?”
Once they’ve learned the ropes, one question remains: Why do movie assassins kill?
Max Von Sydow plays one of the great movie killers in Three Days of the Condor, Sydney Lumet’s classic story of conspiracies and murder. His reasoning for doing what he does is chillingly simple. “The fact is, what I do is not a bad occupation,” he says. “Someone is always willing to pay.” The Matador’s Julian Noble (Pierce Brosnan) agrees, “My business is my pleasure,” he said.