Director Walter Hill’s “The Assignment” is not a good movie but, hey, I kind of like it. It has a great premise: a deranged doctor, played by Sigourney Weaver, performs a “forced” sex-change operation as revenge on the hitman, played by Michelle Rodriguez, who killed her brother. It’s a wacky idea. Somehow I missed it back in 2017, but I finally saw it the other night.
The movie has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 21 percent and loads of bad reviews and the inevitable controversy over the subject matter. But I was a little tipsy when I watched it last weekend and, you know, it was perfectly enjoyable for a silly movie night. Of course, I kept thinking if a sex-change operation were forced on me – or on many of you reading this – I suspect we’d all be okay with it if we were going to come out looking like Michelle Rodriguez!
I do understand that it’s no longer called “sex reassignment” or “sex change” surgery but rather gender confirmation surgery. Apparently, an earlier draft of the script was titled, “(Re)Assignment.” And to be honest I think that would have been an even better title since it would suggest more the forced nature of the procedure.
Probably my favorite scene is when the hitman, now a “she,” goes to a doctor to see if the operation can be reversed and is told no – the doctor did too good a job. Later she muses, “So that was it. This was the way it was going to be. I was going to be a chick, except for in my head. So get used to it.” Yeah, I think I could get used to it pretty quickly!
Another favorite moment was a brief shot of the girlfriend of the hitman walking up a staircase. The way she moves and tilts her head at the top of the stairs was so feminine that I was transfixed. It was an otherwise unextraordinary moment, but I probably backed it up five times to watch her walk up those stairs.
I always like to read reviews of movies after seeing them, and the thing I found most annoying, though not surprising, is how much controversy the movie stirred up regarding trans issues, with many critics calling it transphobic and even hateful and dangerous. This one on Indiewire was particularly harsh. To me it seems like a typical overreaction and a misreading of the movie. In no way does the director equate what happens to Frank Kitchen, the hitman, to the transgender experience. It’s simply a crazed act of revenge that he’s forced to endure, and yes, anyone who’s comfortable with their gender and who wouldn’t want to undergo such an ordeal would be horrified to wake up with a forcibly altered body. Regardless of what some critics wrote, the director certainly isn’t saying that trans people are the subject of wacky experimental surgery or that women are inferior to men.
But I also think the objections of these critics are kind of irrelevant. Controversy is good for online clicks and traffic, so it pays to be offended. It is just a silly movie, though, and there’s such a tendency nowadays to demand that entertainment not be offensive and not delve too deeply into problematic territory. But the problematic material is often more interesting. I also like William S. Burroughs quite a bit (“Naked Lunch“), and he’s problematic AF, but you wouldn’t expect him to be otherwise. Who wants to be safe all the time?
I’ll admit part of my reaction to the critics – and I’m not comparing myself to Walter Hill – is due to the controversy I mentioned in the last blog post over the word tranny. (And thanks to everyone who’s emailed me about possible name changes, pro and con!)
Apparently, Walter Hill was somewhat surprised by the reaction he received, especially from people who haven’t even seen the movie. I still don’t fully understand the intensity of the objections. It’s one thing for a movie to be tacky, or just plain bad, but how it’s supposed to be “dangerous” to trans people is beyond me. Then again, someone might argue that my website is dangerous to trans people too. Myself, I don’t get that much pushback on Twitter since I really don’t have that many people following me but there have been a few. Over the years though I’ve heard many comments about the t-word. But I never reply to online attacks – it’s not worth it and only leads to escalation.
So that was my weekend, and this is my little rant. Let me know what you think if you saw the movie. And if you have any other gender-swap movies you enjoyed, or didn’t enjoy, let me know. I’m always looking for interesting stuff in the genre.