REVIEWS / Blood complicated

Red Rock West (15) John Dahl (US) The Assassin (18) John Badham (US) The Fencing Master (12) Pedro Olea (Sp)

THIS may sound a trifle familiar. The rangy loner pulls up in a one-horse town and enters the bar. He's got a lazy drawl, a gammy leg and an empty wallet. Within seconds, the bartender has mistaken him for a hit-man, given him dollars 5,000 and told him to kill a woman - to be exact, the bartender's wife. So the loner takes the cash and the gun, goes to confront his victim and is promptly given twice as much to kill the bartender instead. He tries to take the money and run, but just as he passes the city limits his car hits a pedestrian. And then his day starts to get really complicated . . .

The naive loner is Nicolas Cage, the hard-bitten wife is Lara Flynn Boyle and the film is John Dahl's Red Rock West, which must count as the one of the cheekiest forays into James M Cain and Jim Thompson territory since the Coen brother's debut, Blood Simple. Red Rock West isn't as murky or as ethically nagging as the Coen's film - it's more like a shaggy dog story - and it's certainly not as flamboyant in style, but it serves up its stock elements in an engaging mixture of menace and unblushing farce.

In most films, for example, the arrival of Dennis Hopper as a barking mad redneck with black cowboy boots and a sick sense of humour would make canny audiences groan with weariness. But the type-casting in Red Rock West is just another kind of quotation - the part is meant to resonate with all the other psychos Hopper has played.

For about two-thirds of its duration, Dahl's knowing little game speeds along in such fast and funny style that it can be forgiven almost any amount of implausibility. Around the 20th impossible plot revelation, however, he crosses the border between the knowing and the arch, and Red Rock West starts to look more and more like a Red Rock cider ad. Its best performance is its straightest - J T Walsh as Wayne the bartender. His scenes with Cage strike a genuinely ugly note that suggest Dahl might pull off a real chiller if he ever gets bored with B-movie pastiche.

The Assassin ought to sound familiar too, since it's John Badham's remake of Luc Besson's chick-with-an-automatic thriller Nikita. The new movie is over-designed, studiedly violent, incoherent and generally puerile - quite faithful, in short, to the spirit of Besson's original as well as to its plot, which is followed with a dedication that borders on fanaticism. This time around, the drug-crazed cop killer is christened Maggie (Bridget Fonda) and codenamed 'Nina', after her penchant for Nina Simone. Everything else is almost precisely as before.

Once again, after suffering the shortest cold turkey in the annals of addiction, our heroine is offered a choice between a cosy cemetery plot or a career as a exceptionally aggressive civil servant. Once again, she undergoes some eye-catching tuition, here at the hands of Gabriel Byrne (lumbered, perhaps as a nod to 007, with Sean Connery's accent). Once again, she finds that being a career girl puts strains on her home life with her weedy photographer lover (Dermot Mulroney) that not even her motherly tutor in social graces (Anne Bancroft in the role originally taken by Jeanne Moreau) can smooth out.

A modicum of fun squeezes through the formula. The Pygmalion element is more apparent this time (scruffy Maggie has lessons in dressing to kill, and is shown how to remove fish-bones from her mouth without bourgeois recourse to the napkin), so that there are times when The Assassin resembles not Nikita but Pretty Woman. Harvey Keitel turns in a stunning head-butt of a performance as a 'cleaner' and disappears all too soon. And Bridget Fonda makes a surprisingly strong lead - her Maggie is more likeable than Anne Parillaud's Nikita, which makes a big difference in the action scenes; Nikita was such a petulant bore that a spot of extreme prejudice would have come as a relief.

Incidentally, the word 'assassin' is derived from a sect who indulged in massive quantities of hashish. Their modern counterparts would make the ideal audience for this tosh.

Pedro Olea's The Fencing Master begins with a skilful feint. At first it looks like routine, not to say dull art-house matter of repressed passion and textbook symbolism. Astarloa (Omero Antonutti), an ageing maestro of swordsmanship, agrees against his principles to give private lessons to a dashing young lady with terrific bone structure (Assumpta Serna). Inevitably, he finds her looks more piercing than her foil.

Meanwhile - for we are in Madrid in 1868 - the streets outside are filled with political turmoil to match Astarloa's emotional churnings: the queen is burnt in effigy and republicans are calling for General Prim to return from exile and take over the country. So far, so-so; but then things suddenly brighten up tremendously as the plot takes a bound into murder mystery, festooned with stolen letters, disappearances, beatings and tortures, plus a terminal duel to make Baroness Orczy spin with envy and a female assassin to make Nikita look gauche. All of which helps make The Fencing Master unexpectedly engrossing; it is Antonutti's melancholic portrayal of the title role - a man in love with dying chivalric skills and a moribund chivalric ethic - that gives it point.

All films open tonight: see facing page for details

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor