Guys like Paul Giamatti should always be considered for a role like Mr. Hertz, the cantankerous, darkly pragmatic hitman who’s chasing Clive Owen in Shoot ‘Em Up. (Other guys we’d love to see play a hitman: Richard Schiff, aka Toby Ziegler from “West Wing,” and Tony Shaloub.) But they rarely are. Too slumped, too bearded, too old, too ethnic. But then comes Sideways and a sudden bankability, or at least the realization by the rest of the fucking world that Giamatti totally owns, and suddenly he’s A-list where he always should have been.
And he plays a hitman. And plays him well, with that sublime mixture of exasperation, resigned work ethic, and something fiery just south of unhinged. Just look at him hanging out of old black sedan. Terrifying!
And Giamatti is exactly what a film such as Shoot ‘Em Up needs, not to mention the serious gravity of Owen, whose leading man’s face seems perpetually pulled to his shoes by battleship chains. It needs top-shelf talent because it has no core; it’s 100% artifice, with an additional 30% of explosivity provided by crafty editing and sound design. We know this, and we haven’t even seen it yet. How? Well, Owen is seen falling backwards out of a jet and into the spinning rotors of a helicopter while wearing a tuxedo and unloading a clip on his enemies. And it works. If that’s not proof that a certain level of gravity is required from your actors when you’re making what amounts to an ultra-violent cartoon, we’ll reconsider the entirely empty exercise in excess that was last year’s Smokin’ Aces.