MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Action Thriller/Stars: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Miku Martineau, Woody Harrelson, Michiel Huisman, Tadanobu Asano, Jun Kunimura, Miyavi, Kazuya Tanabe, Ava Caryofyllis, Amelia Crouch, Gemma Brooke Allen/ Runtime: 106 minutes
I think it is safe to say that why exactly people like movies that feature a hitman as the protagonist isn’t exactly something that requires a whole lot of thought process behind it. This is because “gun for hire” is a distinct career path that, although something that feels like it only could happen in the realm of fiction, is a career path that is very real and also comes equipped with prepackaged internal and external conflicts, exotic locales, and stakes that always borderline on the most extreme path possible. At the same time though, this is also narrative material that, with few exceptions, has consistently given us work that is both entertaining yet also very much run of the mill. Yet although streaming titan Netflix already gave us a slice of cinematic pie in this arena in the form of the Karen Gillan-starrer Gunpowder Milkshake apparently they thought we needed another round of this distinct brand of cinematic mayhem which we are now getting in the form of the Mary Elizabeth Winstead-starrer Kate. Yet although the plot, setting, and a few other ingredients have been switched up, we also see that some things are also fairly similar. Namely that although the lead actress and the cast backing her up do fairly solid work and the action beats are quite engaging, this is also a movie which is severely crippled with a narrative that is tragically fairly predictable and cliché in just where it plans to go over the course of the film. Thus if you liked Gunpowder Milkshake, are looking for something to watch on a lazy day, looking to kill a couple of hours, love good but not great action flicks, or all of the above then this isn’t too bad. If none of the above descriptors apply to you however….well I’m sure you can find something else to occupy your time with.
The plot is as follows: Taking the viewer to Osaka, Japan the movie Kate deals with a woman who has for virtually her whole life either been training to become or working as a gun for hire with her surrogate dad/handler Varrick finding her targets to eliminate and then she utilizing immense physical and firearm skills to finish the job. Of course, as is typical with this type of film, things start to go awry when a job goes south in some way. For our titular heroine, this path is one which is started when she is tasked with eliminating a key member of the infamous criminal organization known as the Yakuza and, despite being successful, is wracked with trauma and guilt for having to kill him in front of his little girl. Ten months later and our heroine has decided to walk off into the sunset….only for her handler to persuade her to do one final hit. Of course this is where things finally go bad since the target gets away. Yet things quickly go from bad to worse when Kate discovers that the reason she missed is because she has been slipped a fatal amount of poison which has left her with severe radiation sickness. Worst of all is the fact that she will be dead within 24 hours since there is no way to cure it. Thus with only a day to live we soon witness as our titular heroine embarks on a campaign of vengeance consisting of finding those who placed her in this predicament and making sure that if she’s going down then they’re at least coming with her.
Now right off the bat I am just going to say that if you have seen the trailer for this particular slice of cinematic pie and you are still having reservations in regards to seeing this movie or not, then I feel that the deciding factor that should lean you to being on board with giving this slice of cinematic pie a watch is the work done in the lead role by Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Indeed from 2011’s The Thing prequel, 2016’s riveting and taut 10 Cloverfield Lane, 2020’s Harley Quinn/ Birds of Prey movie, and even 2010’s cult favorite Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Miss Winstead has managed to show time and time again that her talents as a lead actress are not being utilized as much as they ought to be and here we get to see her first time as an solo action heroine at the center of the story. No it might not be from a pathos perspective the most complicated role she has ever chosen to perform, but at the same time she still gives this part everything that it needs to work consisting mainly of a fairly chilly and business-first style demeanor burying a hint of openness that try as hard as she can is still able to come through in how she handles things let alone herself. No it’s not the easiest tightrope to traverse since going too far one way can make a character of this ilk highly unlikable by audience standards, but Winstead manages to do an absolutely phenomenal job at making the role work for her and then some. In addition, I also must say that I really like the co-starring turn in this by Woody Harrelson as Varrick. Sure it’s not exactly the most difficult role in the world to pull off (and yes it’s been done countless times by countless other actors in countless other movies), but I always love seeing Woody Harrelson pop up in things that give him a chance to show off a bit of a sinister/slimy/shady side (True Detective Season 1, No Country for Old Men, Rampart, and definitely War for the Planet of the Apes) and this was no different.
Now not only is it absolutely delightful to see both the aforementioned Harrelson as well as Miss Winstead back in a role that seems like it was tailor made for her as an actress, but it is also fairly thrilling to see that for this movie she got to partner up with 87North Productions. That’s because with a catalogue of movies to its name that include the John Wick franchise, 2017’s Atomic Blonde, and the actually not bad Bob Odenkirk-starrer from earlier this year Nobody, this studio’s credibility in terms of the action genre is fairly significant to say the least plus it is still a delight to see their latest acting choice play in their particular sandbox. Yes, in all fairness, the previously alluded to Birds of Prey/ Harley Quinn solo movie that was made did show audiences that Winstead was a fairly capable action heroine (with the work she did in the also previously mentioned Scott Pilgrim vs. The World being a close second). Yet, unlike in those other movies, in this slice of cinematic pie we see that Winstead isn’t corralled into having to share her time in the spotlight and as a result this movie is able to give us a group of riveting action beats that really permit her to show what she is capable of. Best of all is the fact that the film’s helmer films it all with a wonderful degree of clarity that helps to support the terrific fight sequences whilst also permitting them to find just the balance between amusing and visceral to the extent that yes you feel each hit as it is landed, but you also are left astonished at just how incredibly it’s all performed. Sadly the thing that ultimately holds this slice of cinematic pie back a significant deal is that you really get the sense that not even half the energy that went towards this movie’s action beats made it to constructing this particular movie’s script. That’s because you can wish all you want that this movie will buck certain trends that this distinct subgenre is known for utilizing, but instead this movie’s screenplay chooses to engage in darn nearly every single stereotypical trope you can put your mind to the point that you could literally play a drinking game (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) due to how many predictable narrative or creative wrinkles come up during this film’s 106 minute runtime. Sure the narrative works, the tempo is not that bad, and it does have some intriguing things to say, but otherwise this is literally every single plot beat you have seen in a movie like this supported by some truly phenomenal action beats and a wonderful turn by its lead actress.
All in all I am not gonna lie to you dear reader: the slice of cinematic pie that is Kate is most assuredly not by any means of the imagination the first slice of cinematic pie of this particular ilk that we as movie goers have had the pleasure of receiving this year and if we are being completely honest I am willing to bet that in the year ahead it is also extremely likely, if not inevitable, that audiences are going to be treated to at least a couple more stabs at this very same subgenre if not close to the same narrative. It is when looking at this slice of cinematic pie through that quite distinct prism that it by and large is nowhere near as impressive as it would like to be even as it does strive to locate ways that can help to distinguish itself from the rest of the proverbial pack. Ehhh if nothing else dear reader, I guess it should be said that it is my hope that this movie will inspire other people in the land of movie magic to become aware of the wonderful range of talent that its lead actress manages to possess in waves and that she will continue to find new and exciting opportunities to showcase said range for years to follow. On a scale of 1-5 I give Kate “2021” a solid 3 out of 5.