Ron Perlman is one of those actors who enter a scene and immediately carry a certain kind of … weight.
This guy means business. This guy has something to say. We need to pay attention to this guy.
As one of Guillermo del Toro’s go-to guys (the “Hellboy” movies, “Blade II,” “Pacific Rim”), in television roles on “Beauty and the Beast” and “Sons of Anarchy” — and even when he’s present only in voice-over form — Perlman can do so much with so little. He can be stone-still and speaking in a tone barely above a whisper and he’ll still command the moment.
Such is the case with Perlman’s resonant performance in “Asher” as the title character, a former Mossad operative turned Brooklyn hit man who continues to take jobs as they come, even though he’s got a bad ticker and he’s easily twice the age of the other mercenaries in town. (And yes, “wetwork” is a thriving albeit high-ris and bloody cottage industry in this world.)
Of course, the aging-hit-man theme is hardly original, and at times “Asher” feels almost TOO familiar — but thanks to the great performances by Perlman and the supporting cast; a knowing and literate script by Jay Zaretsky, and the slick direction of Michael Caton-Jones, this is a sparkling black diamond of film noir.
With exacting, emotionless precision, Asher follows the same pattern for every job.
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He enters a dry cleaner and is handed an envelope containing the pertinent information about the target.
He goes to a convenience store and buys a pack of Parliament cigarettes and a cheap umbrella.
He wears sunglasses, even though it’s night.
And then — well, you’ll see.
Asher is one of those refined cinematic assassins. He lives in a spacious apartment with an outdoor terrace, he’s something of a connoisseur of fine red wines and good music, and he’s a talented cook who makes himself dinner every night.
And eats alone.
Sure, there was once a woman. But that was a long time ago, and it didn’t end well, and Asher has no intention of ever opening himself up to that kind of situation again. (Let alone expose a woman to the inherent risk in being the significant other of a guy who kills strangers for a living.)
Ah, but Asher didn’t count on a meet-cute (actually it’s more of a meet-brute) with the lovely and equally isolated and instantly endearing Sophie (Famke Janssen), who has her own reasons for keeping her guard up but eventually accepts Asher’s invitation to dinner, and here we go.
Director Caton-Jones and screenwriter Zaretsky nimbly blend storylines about violence and betrayal within the ranks of Jewish gangsters with the domestic drama, which includes not only the promising but uneasy romance between Asher and Sophie, but Sophie coping with the heartbreaking stress of being the sole caretaker of her mother (Jacqueline Bisset), who is suffering from dementia and rarely even recognizes her daughter any more.
And as if the presence of the invaluable Ms. Bisset isn’t great enough, we also get Richard Dreyfuss as the warmly smiling, twinkle-eyed, grandfatherly Avi — who is also the reigning boss of the mob and won’t blink if he needs to cut your heart out and take your whole family down as well if you dare betray him.
Dreyfuss sinks his teeth into his handful of scenes, while Bisset hits different but equally effective tones in her moments. The underrated Janssen, striking as ever, does her usual stellar work as the hard-luck Sophie, who realizes it’s absolutely insane to explore a long-term relationship with a HIT MAN — but just might take that leap anyway.
At the center of it all is the hulking grace of Ron Perlman as a sharpshooting assassin who performs his job with cold-blooded efficiency, discovers there’s still a spark of warmth in his heart and is at an age where he’d be long overdue to take his pension, if they had pensions for guys like him.
Momentum Pictures presents a film directed by Michael Caton-Jones and written by Jay Zaretsky. Rated R (for violence and language). Running time: 117 minutes. Opens Friday at AMC Streets of Woodfield and on demand.