Robert Duvall, directing and writing in addition to starring, indulges here his personal passion for contract killing. No, wait. That's not what the publicity said. It's his personal passion for tango dancing that he indulges. And what better, what more personal, way to express that passion than to have the protagonist be a contract killer who shares it? Well: one answer to that question would be to have the passionate protagonist be a director as in Carlos Saura's incomparable Tango (or as in Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson, less forbiddingly), but that may yet be too distant a point of identification for Duvall. The latter's offering, as dilettantish about murder-for-hire as about the tango, compares very badly, although the filmmaker at any rate puts his personal stamp on it in alphabetizing it under the letter "A" -- his other two directorial efforts have been called Angelo, My Love and The Apostle -- as well as in its Cassavetes-like inertia and improvised-sounding dialogue. (One hopes, at least, that it was improvised, that it was not the result of a line-by-line Flaubertian quest for le mot juste.) The hired-killer strand of the narrative sends a pony-tailed New York mobster to Argentina for a political hit -- not your everyday assignment in the New York underworld -- on the understanding that he will be back in three days for the birthday of the doted-on daughter of his current girlfriend: this is a hit man with his priorities straight. In consequence, when his target goes into the hospital for two to three weeks after a horsing accident, the killer channels his tremendous frustration and his sudden free time into a study of the tango and a flirtation with an elegant tanguista (the slyly deadpan Luciana Pedraza, Duvall's off-camera inamorata, in her first acting job). No better integrated than that, the terpsichorean element is just a decorative ribbon wound around the central strand of a tepid, torpid thriller: an indulgence indeed. (2003) — Duncan Shepherd
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