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Assassination Tango

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Assassination Tango

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Robert Duvall's mesmerizing, Oscar-nominated turn in 1997's The Apostle–which he also wrote, directed, and financed–would qualify as the performance of a lifetime if his filmography weren't filled with similarly towering performances. Assassination Tango, Duvall's directorial follow-up, doesn't benefit by comparison. But even when judged solely on its merits, it's still pretty thin and self-indulgent. Like The Apostle, Assassination Tango casts its director as a larger-than-life man of troubling contradictions whose bursts of violence contradict his idealistic, peaceful virtues. This time out, Duvall plays a veteran assassin whose confidence in his work borders on cockiness. When not coldly and efficiently carrying out hits, however, he dotes on single mother Kathy Baker and her wide-eyed daughter. A narcissistic former hairdresser whose scraggly ponytail betrays the insecurities of a man desperately hanging on to what's left of his youth, Duvall holds boxing and dancing in equal regard. Consequently, when he's sent to Argentina to assassinate a ruthless politician, he views the trip largely as an excuse to soak up atmosphere, check out fighters, and learn a few new dance moves. Due to unforeseen complications, his brief Argentina stint stretches into weeks, allowing him time to marinate in the local dance halls, where he strikes up a strangely innocent flirtation with a beautiful dancer. Duvall hurls racial epithets one moment and spoils his girlfriend's adoring daughter with horse-riding lessons the next, but his contradictory impulses never cohere into a cohesive character; instead, he's more an amalgam of actorly quirks that feel random and disconnected. For a film clearly intended as a valentine to the tango, Assassination is strangely short on actual dancing: Until the end credits, the film devotes more time to discussing the dance than depicting it. A supremely unhurried filmmaker, Duvall lets the story meander sleepily en route to a conclusion as ho-hum as everything preceding it.