Friday, August 09, 2019

ECCO: The Latest Assassin Anti-Hero

Michael is a lot like Jason Bourne, but at least he does not have any commitment issues. He would be perfectly happy to settle down and start a family, but his shadowy past will not let him in director-screenwriter Ben Medina’s ECCO, which opens today in Jersey.

Michael never told his wife Abby about his shadowy past, partly because he is not one hundred percent sure of it himself. Now gainfully employed on a fishing boat, we can assume his history involves the contract killing that opened the film, or else why would Medina show it to us? Presumably the sailor who is lucky at cards was once the assassin who pulls off a spectacular hit on a private plane and then goes home to Aubrey, his fashion photographer girlfriend.

As viewers might expect, bad guys will be stalking the silent, brooding anti-hero in both timelines—and they will come loaded for bear. Frankly, the details regarding the shadowy group Michael was formerly associated with remain sketchy throughout the film. In fact, Medina seems to rely on audience familiarity with previous covert conspiracy capers to fill in the blanks on their own.

That is certainly problematic, but the greater concern is Medina’s sluggish pacing. This film takes an awfully long time just to get out of the blocks. Partly, that is due to the stylized, vintage 1970’s paranoid thriller vibe he is going for. A little of that is cool, especially given Duncan Cole strikingly stylish noir cinematography, but after a while it impedes the suspense and dampens the energy level. Plus, the hazy villain walks with a limp—a rather unfortunate bit of stereotyping, but one that rarely ever gets called out.

Still, Lathrop Walker is quite good as Michael and Helen Grace Donald is notably both seductive and ultimately quite haunting as Aubrey. In fact, the ensemble is quite good, but they have their work cut out for them, due to what is on the page. Basically, the dialogue is over-written and the narrative is under-written. Yet, it still clocks in with a running time just over two hours.

It is tricky to write about ECCO, because there are obviously a lot of twists that should be not be spoiled, even though most astute viewers will be way ahead of the film. It also boasts some slickly executed action scenes, but there is too much slack in between. We respect the look and feel of ECCO, but still can’t recommend it when it opens today (8/9) in Jersey, at the AMC Jersey Gardens and the AMC Palisades.