Aleksander Bach interview: Hitman, videogames

The director of Hitman: Agent 47, Aleksander Bach, on trying to get the videogame-to-film adaptation right...

Director Aleksander Bach is the second to try to bring the Hitman videogames to the big screen. His movie, Hitman: Agent 47 arrives in UK cinemas today, and he spared us some time to chat about the film….

Did you feel that you had to pay homage to the computer games, or did you feel that there were moments where it was better to take a different path?  

Absolutely. It was never the plan to copy the game, because the game exists. The question was ‘What can we do in the movie that we cannot do in the game?’, and that was to bring some humanity and emotion to the characters. I was inspired by the games because it’s a very interesting world, on the one hand it’s very rigid and sleek, then it’s dark. It was a beautiful challenge to work out how to bring that to the big screen. We knew that we’d also have to surprise people, that’s why I was so glad that we had the chance to create this beautiful contrast of locations, for example, February, the winter-time, in Berlin, which is freezing cold and pretty grey, and in the third act we go to Singapore which is the complete opposite, with great architecture, a tropical city. When you combine these two things, as you see in when you see the trailer at the moment it’s very loud with a lot of explosions but we’re very happy that people appreciate it when they watch the movie that there’s a huge emotional part of the film, and when you marry these two parts of the film together there’s something really interesting in the end. Over the last few years, there has been a discussion amongst cultural commentators about how well a computer game can tell a story, what are your thoughts on that?  

I have a big respect for it, so many computer adaptations just really failed. I think we can be clear about that, they very often didn’t work out and I think the mistake was very simple, the people were concentrating their expectations too much on the look of the game and what I think what was often missing was the passion. I never tried to start a whole project about the game itself, I started from scratch and really needed to find out what is it about the character of Hitman, Agent 47? What is so special about him, what is possible, what is not possible? Why is he how he is? He’s a perfect killing machine, and I found the question how much space for humanity is in there? I knew that this was the key to make a video game adaptation more successful.

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The people care for characters, the people care for story and when you pack this together with great action, which is based on the computer game, then I think you have the chance to succeed with a video game adaptation which is interesting.

  

On the subject of trying to humanise Agent 47, this summer is insane with spy films out all month and this fits within that. No society in history has supported anyone who kills for a living, so why do we like films about that?  

That’s what I want to find out for myself. He’s a killer, he’s killing for money, and I want to know what exactly is going on behind these cold eyes of this cold killing machine. I wanted to find out is there humanity left? We were saying that in the programme, genetically, basic emotions like fear and love were suppressed and I wanted to find out if this was possible or not. At this stage of the film, the moment where Katia comes in and is triggered, I wanted to find out how much emotion is possible, or how much humanity. This is the same reason we love movies like Leon: The Professional, for example, he’s also a killer, and suddenly starts to care for this little girl. I wanted to find out how much space is here to humanise this character, and I knew you just cannot do it in a subtle way. When you put it too far it’s just wrong. It’s wrong for Agent 47 to do what he’s doing because he’s killing people, but we don’t hate him but what I wanted to know was if we understand him, why he’s doing things? How is he doing things? This is what I try to answer in the film and also how Katia is triggering this character. 

You’re talking about things from a philosophical standpoint, did you do any research into antisocial personality disorder or sociopathy and how that affects people?  

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He’s not sick, but genetically changed. This is interesting because when we come to the character of Katia, who is at the very beginning suffering with visions that she has, is there something wrong with her? She’s taking pills, she’s depressed, because she cannot embrace who she really is. She’s learning step-by-step who she really is, 47 starts to trigger this as well from a different point of view. It’s not an easy question to answer and of course you have to treat these things with a lot of respect. It’s not easy to answer this question. 

You brought up the visions, that was an interesting device used in the film. With such a visual element, how much of that comes from the script, and how much is do you bring to it as director?  

I had a very clear vision of this film and I knew that the key was the direction, in pre-production I was very hard working, from the very beginning, in how to bring this to life. There’s things on page that, whilst not being too technical, you need to let things happen in the shoot when you have characters. This is where you need to be open and let the movie magic happen. Things happen that you don’t expect and this is what is sometimes beautiful.

One of the most visually striking moments in the movie comes during a chase through the streets of Singapore, when a car is brought to a halt by means of harpoons and cables. It seems like a very technical sequence, that takes place in a very public space, how challenging is something like that to pull off?  

It’s very tough, that was my idea, not part of the script, because I wanted to create something visually really impressive. I thought about how we can make it happen as something that’s interesting in a visual and unexpected way. I was working very hard to bring this to life and to create something we’ve never seen before, that was a big challenge. When you’re trying to come up with novel ideas for action sequences, do you ever think of an idea, then discover it touches on something we’ve seen in another movie, and have to go back to the drawing board?  

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Of course, there has been so much on screen already and to re-invent things all the time is just really hard. The only way to succeed with that is to be very strict with yourself and find out ‘ok we’ve had this before’. You’re not going to invent new stories in general, everything was told before, it’s always a question of how you tell the story and how you film it, how you bring it to life.