By Marty Mulrooney
The Assassin Next Door is an Israeli drama directed by Danny Lerner. Originally released as Kirot in 2009, the film stars former Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) as Galia, an enslaved prostitute for the Israeli mafia. Desperate to get back home to her husband and daughter in Ukraine, Olga reluctantly agrees to become an assassin after a failed escape attempt nearly gets her killed. The Assassin Next Door was released today (14th February 2011) on DVD in the UK.
The Assassin Next Door is being marketed as an action film in the West, yet in all honesty, it’s not really anything of the sort. Kirot – as it was originally entitled in Israel – is instead about the strong bond that forms between two abused and battered women who live next door to each other in a run-down apartment block.
Galia (Olga Kurylenko) is being forced to kill people by the Israeli mafia to earn back her passport so she can escape back home. Elinor (Ninet Tayeb) is a grocery store cashier and battered housewife who dreams of escaping from her abusive husband. The friendship that forms between these two women is the heart and soul of The Assassin Next Door: those expecting an explosive action film will be thoroughly disappointed.
The film is obviously low-budget from the moment it begins. There is an awful digital sheen to the opening scenes that looks uncomfortably like a home video. Thankfully, the majority of the film looks much, much better, but every time an action sequence occurs, things start to look really cheap again and the picture quality of the DVD release is pretty murky overall.
Things aren’t helped at all by a musical score that mostly consists of melodramatic piano playing, which completely destroys the otherwise sombre atmosphere. At a time when low-budget films are no longer immediately being dismissed as terrible, The Assassin Next Door does itself no favours in the visual/sound departments.
The key ingredient that saves The Assassin Next Door from becoming a total disaster will take many viewers completely by surprise. Beneath the numerous plot holes – Why is Galia even in Israel in the first place? Plus, why does the Israeli mafia want someone with no experience performing assassinations? – and badly shot action sequences – the shootouts would look bad even if they were seen in a TV show from the mid-90’s – there is a well-acted drama worth watching.
Gloria (Kurylenko) and Elinor (Tayeb) have some truly great scenes together. Their dialogue is a mixture of English, Hebrew and Russian, which could have been a disaster to follow, but is kept simple enough that it instead adds realism and charm to their conversations together. One scene in particular, where the two women stand on a rooftop under an umbrella during a thunderstorm, really stands out. Gloria teaches Elinor how to shoot a gun, counting to four after each flash of lightening so that the gunshots will be covered up by the subsequent claps of thunder. This scene is a brief moment of moviemaking inspiration that almost belongs in an entirely different film.
The violence against women shown is brutal, yet the stereotypical bad guys never really stand out enough for their inevitable demises to fully resonate. Mishka (Vladimir Friedman) is the exception to the rule, but unfortunately is wasted as the film runs its course; he should have been positioned as the main antagonist rather than as just a supporting character. The ending in particular is pretty dire, offering little resolution to the moments that have transpired, or even the moments still at hand for that matter.
Overall, The Assassin Next Door has plenty of faults. Yet it still manages to remain watchable for its entire runtime and patient viewers will be rewarded with some fine acting from two very capable actresses. With a better script and tighter direction, this might have been great. Instead, we are left with a film that promises one thing (action), delivers another (drama), and then doesn’t manage to excel in either department. I have a feeling that the surprisingly strong acting won’t be enough to rescue this one from bargain-bin obscurity…
5 OUT OF 10