Summary: Mimi Rogers changes the outlook of hit man Anthony LaPaglia
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Bulletproof Heart" (1994) aka "Killer" is widely recognized as a neo-noir, and it is. The story in brief has a nihilistic but not cruel hit man (Anthony LaPaglia) who is asked to kill seductive Mimi Rogers because she owes mob figures a lot of money and knows too much. Peter Boyle, LaPaglia's associate who knows Rogers and has promised to get her killed, brings him the job. Boyle warns LaPaglia that he couldn't bring himself to kill Rogers. LaPaglia reluctantly takes along Matt Craven to drive. Craven is a bumbling, annoying, talkative guy who botched a previous job.
LaPaglia is burnt out. His sex drive or lack of it reflect this and so does his questioning of meaning in life and the worth of any human being. As in "The Killers" (1946), he finds that his mark puts up no resistance. Quite the opposite. She welcomes him to her apartment, clears out those who are partying and engages him. One look at her has awakened LaPaglia's interest. Her sex games arouse him physically as much as her attitude toward her own death stimulate him intellectually.
As in many neo-noirs, there is an element of humor mixed in here in the form of irony, as if to say that no one can take the proceedings too seriously. When Boyle pleads with LaPaglia to take the job, for example, he virtually comes across as a comic, not a serious, figure. Craven's part always borders on and even crosses into parody. In contrast, Mimi Rogers projects seriousness, and LaPaglia's hit man is genuinely confused by her.
As in a good many neo-noirs, the movie conveys a self-consciousness that was absent in a film noir like "The Killers", both versions. To a greater degree than in the earlier films, those of us accustomed to the earlier cinema know we are watching a story that is basically concocted, and it seems less genuine or more false because of this. This is the case with the odd dialog delivery and repetition we encounter in any Mamet movie, for example. In this movie, realism of characters is compromised, although not fatally.
The movie develops its theme and character arcs nicely, if slowly, but that very slowness contributes to its dreamlike quality. To a degree, it plays like a filmed play. If the direction had been less stolid and conventional and the editing more ruthless, the film might possibly have achieved a greater intensity of human feeling and felt more genuine.
I rate the film overall as an average entry. If I have conveyed the idea that I was not especially taken with what I saw, that is accurate. I am far more likely to watch "The Killers" for the nth time than to watch this a second time, but it's certainly worth one viewing. Both critics and fans find a great deal more to like in this film than I do.