Director Aleksander Bach Targets as His Feature Debut, Hitman: Agent 47by Brad Balfour
August 19, 2015
He couldn’t simply turn the series into a film by showing the cold hearted genetically enhanced assassin just making hits.
In the games, Agent 47 grappled with a relentless set of permutations that made his kills endlessly more complicated. But that does little to suggest a narrative that could exist outside the game’s universe. So the Polish-born Bach had to have a narrative fashioned out of something more sinewy. To do he had to create multi-dimensional characters and a storyline to suit them.
So in this reboot, Agent 47 (Rupert Friend) works for a top secret organization, the International Contracts Agency (known in the video games as either the ICA or just the Agency) which carries out assassinations of high profile targets worldwide. Early on it’s established that Le Clerq (Thomas Kretschmann), chairman of international terrorist network Syndicate International, is trying to create an army of unstoppable assassins.
To do he has to use Katia van Dees — who turns out to be Agent 90 (Hannah Ware) — as the key to finding Dr. Litvenko (Ciarán Hinds), the developer of the original agent program that birthed 47 and who also happens to be her father. Initially, it appears that Agent 47 is sent to eliminate her before Le Clerq finds her. And that’s when CIA agent John Smith (Zachary Quinto) appears — initially as Katia’s savior but everything turns out not to be what it appears to be.
Before he was assigned Hitman: Agent 47, Bach had established a career as a director working in Asia doing music videos and music documentaries before venturing into advertising. He had done Postgraduate Studies at the acclaimed film academy at Baden-Württemberg/Ludwigsburg and was an alumni of Institute for Music and Media in Düsseldorf where he graduated with an A/V Engineering degree and diploma in classical piano.
With this background in music and engineering, he started working with major clients like RWE, Mercedes-Benz, Nike, Nivea and Red Cross, winning multiple awards including Young Director Award in Cannes 2008 and 2009, the New York Festival Gold Award in 2010 and Art Directors Club Awards in both 2010 and 2011.
Enlisting a sterling cast that included all the A-list names mentioned above, this first time director has assembled a propulsive action film that has both its share of explosions and surprising reveals. This following exclusive conversation recently took place in the Crosby Hotel a couple of weeks before the film’s release.
With this release coming out this month, your film joins with Man from U.N.C.L.E., Mission Impossible, and American Ultra in featuring enhanced assassin/secret agents fighting grand conspiracies and the powers that be. Do you feel like you’re part of a trend; what do you think set this apart?
AB: The whole project started really small and became bigger and bigger. Once the studio saw my director’s cut and a huge potential in the whole film, and once the studio decided we were going to release it in summer, that was really exciting.
I think it’s great [that it can seen as part of something bigger]. I’m so happy the people really like the movie and that the thoughts I had in the beginning to create an intelligent film about an assassin, can now compete with these big movies, that’s a big honor for me.
Did the first iteration of a cinematic Hitman have an impact on you?
AB: I knew that all three characters needed to be different on their own, especially — as what Hannah has said, she’s making the reverse journey of Agent 47. That’s exactly what this story reveals. She’s an agent and doesn’t know it, she’s suffering from these visions, and she’s trying to suppress them because she doesn’t know where she belongs. She tries to find out why this is happening and Agent 47 is kind of teaching her. We think he’s about to kill her, so we have a strong contrast there.
I wanted to play with expectations to create twists and make things interesting. Agent 47 is always a step ahead. Then we have the character John Smith, who’s sort of in between. He suddenly is showing up and saying, “I’m here to protect you” for the same reason [that Agent 47 is trying to protect her].
Setting up all three of these characters that are different is interesting. That’s why I was fighting so much to not have too many characters. I don’t like movies where you don’t know who to care for. I believe in simple ideas, simple stories, but tell it in a new and great way.
Did they give you any parameters? Did they increase the budget once they understood your vision?
AB: I don’t remember the exact budget but we made it for a very, very fair price.
Would 50 million a fair guess?
AB: Much less.
But what parameters were established for you?
AB: The problem with the first Hitman movie is that when you play too cold, too stoic, you don’t care about the character. This is the big difference between the game and the movie, you need to create a character you care about. That was one of the big parameters, to bring him to life. What I always told the studio was that I saw Agent 47 as a James Bond styled killer in a Tom Ford suit. He’s a gentleman. But he’s a killer, he’s a clone.
What sold the producers on having you do this as your first feature? What sold them on your style and ideas? You’ve done commercials…
AB: There was one commercial work I did for the International Red Cross, it was a black and white piece with a ballet dancer in a war scenario. That was the reason why the studio and the President of Fox International wanted me to make this movie, because he saw that I’m always attracted to trying to combine contrasting worlds which don’t fit together.
That’s what he found in this world; I wanted to create something beautiful in a horrible world. And I liked this idea, is this possible? He saw a humanity there that he liked so much that he told me he wants to bring this humanity I showed in this work on the big screen.
So, that was the challenge of translating a video game into a film?
AB: To make this successful, what you need first of all if you do a game adaptation — it really doesn’t matter if it’s a video game or not — you need a great story and characters, and great actors [such as Rupert Friend, Zach Quinto and Hannah Ware] to bring it to life. When you have this and combine it with great action and something that feels fresh, you have a chance to put the puzzle together in a way that somehow feels right.
I think that’s the most important thing that you have great characters that you care for. When it’s based on this game, on Hitman, and you have this cold assassin Agent 47, you also need to care for this guy. When he’s just too cold, it doesn’t work.
You do enjoy the challenge of other worldly things?
AB: Of course. I love the challenge of constellations of characters and 47 was such a big challenge for me to see how much humanity I can bring there that you still can feel for this character [despite him being such a cold-hearted killer]. He’s so complex. You don’t love Agent 47, you don’t hate him, but I want you to understand him.
Since Agent 47 was developed behind the Iron Curtain, Does your Euro-Polish background affect your character’s identity?
AB: [In a way,] yes. I was born in Poland and I feel my Polish heart.But I was able to grow up in Germany, which is a completely different culture. I was born in Poland but grew up in West Germany. The interesting part is that my parents raised me Polish, so I speak it fluently, we spoke it at home so I could feel the culture of Poland.
I could feel the culture of Germany too, and that’s a contrast. I learned this more and more when I became an adult — to feel different cultures. Then I started to work in the States and internationally for my job. I see it as a present that I can feel more different cultures. I feel my Polish heart and soul when I bring this emotional drama to characters.
The cities you shoot this in are an exciting part of this movie. How did that factor in the filmmaking process and the feel you were trying to create?
AB: When you think about the game it has very sleek and elegant look in general. We didn’t want to copy the game so I was looking for contrast to bring it to life. That’s why when we were coming up with the idea to shoot in Berlin and Singapore, I was looking for places that have this contrast. Because we were shooting in Berlin in February when it’s cold and tough and it’s a very different energy through the whole shoot, you can feel it.
Then the journey brings us to this really hot, green, stunning Singapore. It’s a perfect journey because everything comes together in the third act. And especially when you… My challenge was what I wanted to achieve because it’s a complete reboot of Agent 47, it was my chance to create this world from scratch for the look and feel of the movie and the places where we were filming were perfect for that.
Would you want to do a movie in German or Polish?
AB: I wouldn’t say what language the movie is primarily in is important to me. It depends on the story, that it makes sense.
Were you mentored by anyone?
AB: What can I say, of course I like Christopher Nolan or David Fincher, I like big emotional stories, big entertaining but smart movies.
Is this a genre you always wanted to be a part of?
AB: I’m not into one genre, I care for the characters and the story, and what kind of genre this is is not the most important thing. The second movie I’m working on with Lionsgate is an alien sci-fi movie, a completely different thing.
Do you see yourself wearing multiple hats as writer, producer, and director?
AB: I’m good at working closely with a writer. I’m good at figuring out the structure of the movie and what it needs. This is such a [challenge] to work with so many great people on a team for a movie. It’s my first movie, and I’m doing my second one already, so I’m very excited.
Are you going to make a film in the United States?
AB: At the moment I’m somewhere else, but I’m always open.
That’s what so special about this movie. To create contrast in the story, it started as a Fox International movie, became a major release, and was shot in English, but filmed out of the States in other countries.
Where would you want to shoot?
AB: It depends on the story. I would love to shoot in the east. The Polish, Russian East.