If and when extraterrestrials ever conduct a full quantitative inventory and analysis of our filmed entertainment, assassins would definitely fall into the category of occupational statistical overrepresentation, and probably merit some red-flag questions about humankind’s cultural preoccupation.
Decades ago, it was easy to view many films about assassins as chiefly an exploration of the taboo. Certainly, via the work of John Woo and others, assassin tales unpacked the notion of heroic bloodshed. Then such stories also became vehicles for flamboyant exhibitions of style. It could also be argued that in their most well-crafted incarnations, movies about assassins offered up a way to comment on the times.
Now, watching movies like Code Name Banshee, starring Jaime King and Antonio Banderas, it seems worth questioning whether our fascination is rooted in anything genuine, or simply a reflexive, held-at-gunpoint narrative template—the path of least resistance for a cobbled-together coalition of international financiers who see movies less as actual stories than 90-minute collections of filmed scenes in which people run around with guns.
Directed by Jon Keeyes, Code Name Banshee centers around Delilah (King), a contract killer whose professional moniker gives the movie its title. After an ill-conceived flashback cold opening which establishes several parties being framed by the CIA, Delilah arrives for a job only to find she’s been set-up by Anthony Greene (Tommy Flanagan), another killer with connections to her father’s years-ago disappearance and presumed death.
Anthony wants the location of Delilah’s old mentor Caleb Navvaro (Banderas), who has retired and gone off the grid. Delilah rejects his threatening offer, but Anthony flips her computer-hacking assistant, Kronos (Aleksander Vayshelboym), who clues Anthony and his roster of goons into Delilah’s (correct) belief that she might know where Caleb is. As Anthony closes in, this sets up a showdown involving Delilah, Caleb, and Caleb’s young adult daughter Hailey (Catherine Davis), who believes her father to simply be a construction worker who’s fallen into disfavor with the mob.
Keeyes, a prolific, independent-minded producer-director whose credits include a lot of modestly-budgeted genre efforts, seemingly aims here for “day-making” functionality, and the result is damaging. In both staging and overall pacing, he repeatedly rebuffs opportunities to give his film a sense of individual personality.
As scripted by Matthew Rogers, Code Name Banshee also struggles to carve out any genuine sense of differentiation for itself. The motivation and stakes are all two-dimensional, defined only by mortality and the pat designation of certain characters as good and others as bad. The flashback material, which attempts to create some mystery or intrigue about Delilah’s past, and her path to this line of work, doesn’t connect, and only creates more questions by way of a muddied timeline.
Further weighing the movie down is amateurish and utterly unappealing technical packaging. Benjamin Weinman’s score is both pounding and tired, timed to specific onscreen impacts. The action staging, with the arguable exception of a one-on-three confrontation at Caleb’s bar, is generic, leaving editor R.J. Cooper to try (and more often than not fail) to cut around problem areas. Worst of all is a misguided visual palette, from cinematographer Austin F. Schmidt, that leans into heavy shadow and attempts to impose a single aesthetic across several very different locations.
If there’s a pinch of counterbalancing quality, it’s arguably in the acting. Flanagan introduces his character with smartly calibrated flair, and makes him somewhat distinct without tipping over into rampant scenery-chewing. King, given the heaviest lift, plays things straight and square-jawed.
Banderas, meanwhile, locates slight notes of regret which make a viewer wish they could simply wander off with his character into a different film. Early in his career, Banderas leveraged and leaned into his raw charisma and physicality for roles. Since suffering a heart attack and undergoing surgery in 2017, he’s been open about the effects of those health struggles on his perspective on acting.
That shift, or maturation, has yielded rich new veins of comfortableness in his own skin, for in his slowly deployed smiles and other nonverbal cues there are thousands of different meanings. Code Name Banshee teases this pleasant depth, giving Banderas two good scenes, inclusive of a fireside catch-up with Delilah. Unfortunately, it also saddles him with some cringe-inducing dialogue (“There’s more to life than just contract killing”), and underutilizes him in general.
In the end, Code Name Banshee doesn’t have interesting ideas about who its characters are, or even wish to be. It’s a cliché-driven, rinse-and-repeat exercise in expended bullets, nothing more.