Breaking into the professional assassination racket isn’t easy. It’s not as if most colleges offer majors in assassinationology. Trade schools are fairly limited. Realistically, you’d think the only avenue to make a killing through killing is by starting out as an apprentice.
And sometimes, those apprenticeships start early.
Anna never really asked to be an assassin. She was just a little girl in Vietnam when she was kidnapped by a band of ne’er-do-wells and, somehow, managed to kill them all. When the assassin Moody stumbled into the corpse-filled warehouse and found the wide-eyed orphan hiding in a wardrobe, Moody figured he’d found a natural. So he took her under his blood-soaked wing and taught her everything he knew.
Now, 30 years later, they’re alive, rich and still working together. But those days may be coming to a close. Anna runs a bookstore in London: She loves books, and dealing in tomes is easier and cleaner than dealing in tombs. Moody is 70 now—a time when most assassins, you’d think, would be looking for maximum-security retirement homes. And while he can still pull a trigger just fine, the septugenarian hitman is now dying himself.
But he’s not dead yet. And he has the urge to tie up some loose ends, to wash a little blood off his hands. Right now, he aims to find out what happened to a little boy whose father he killed—track him down, find out what happened and, who knows? Maybe even make amends. But he’ll have to go back to Vietnam to do so. And that’s a country Anna promised she’d never return to.
Fate, it seems, has other plans.
When Moody gets gunned down in his own house and Anna is nearly killed in her beloved bookstore, she knows there’s more to this little boy’s story than either of them realized.
Anna will have to put her career as a book dealer on hold for just a bit. She needs to turn the page on her old profession first.
And she’ll have to go to Vietnam to do so—promise or not.
Moody did save Anna from a pretty horrible situation as a child. And while you could argue that whisking a girl away from her home country and turning her into a contract killer constitutes questionable guardianship, Anna has nothing but good to say about the man.
“He didn’t [just] save a life,” she continues. “He gave me a life.”
We might quibble with that life, but Anna considers herself to be a good assassin. “We have never sent anyone away who didn’t have it coming,” Anna says with a measure of confidence. And indeed, their quarry is made up of bad, bad people.
So … is that, um, positive? Because that’s about all we have for this section, other than perhaps Anna’s taste in books.
“We all have to pay for our sins eventually,” Anna says at one point. “I’m just a guy bad man looking to pay for his sins,” Moody admits, too. And indeed, the term sin, and the concept of evil, comes up surprisingly frequently here.
Moody’s own view of human nature can be summed up like this: He believes that most people are good (and sometimes do bad things); some people are bad (and fight it all their lives), some (like him) are corrupt; a few are just flat-out evil, and they try to justify what they do as good. And while Moody’s philosophy differs from Christian doctrine, certainly that last statement offers just a whiff of Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil …”
Moody also worries that when he dies, some of his former victims will have (ahem) bones to pick with him. “You really believe you’re going up?” Anna quips.
A Catholic orphanage/hospital is seen, and a habit-wearing nun talks with Anna. Oddly, a Buddhist statue seems to grace the grounds of the hospital; we see other such statues throughout the film. We hear that someone was assassinated on Christmas Day.
We briefly see two women, stark naked, jump out of a bed and scamper away, while another man (also likely nude under the sheets) stays behind. We see pretty much everything there is to see on the fleeing women.
Anna develops an interesting love-kill relationship with a guy named Rembrandt during her adventure. During a “date,” they point guns (underneath the table) at each other’s crotches, and they explicitly and crassly make note of that. Later, they fight as sultry music plays and, ultimately, they wind up in bed together. But while each finds the other intriguing, their emotions for each other don’t seem to go much deeper than that.
Moody talks about what the “twins” are up to, with the conversation suggesting that the twins are his children. He mentions one is in a relationship with a man, while the other is a lesbian.
Anna dresses provocatively, and some other women wear slinky evening wear. In a flashback, a man seems to prepare to rape a young girl (though nothing explicit is seen). There’s a reference to a villain dabbling in human trafficking.
Given that the movie spends all its time with assassins, perhaps it’s not too surprising that the body count soars.
Perhaps dozens of people are shot and killed. Almost all these fatalities are accompanied with spurts or sprays of blood, but some get much messier. One man loses much of his blood and brain matter, which is splattered across the inside of a car windshield. Another gets shot at point-blank range in the temple, and the camera records it all. We see two or three people shot by such a powerful gun that they go flying: one lies in a pool of blood, another is in a blood-drenched bathtub, the victim’s face apparently blown off. At least one person gets shot a couple of times and survives, too—but not before leaving lots of blood behind.
But bullets are far from the only fatal implements here. Two people are killed with a dinner tray. Another dies after getting stabbed in the neck with a bladed cell phone (he falls in a pool and the blood clouds in the water), and a man has his face sliced open via a blade hidden in a cigar. (It’s true that those things’ll kill you, apparently.) Someone dies after getting stabbed in the face with a memo spike, another meets his maker via porcelain sink. A woman is beheaded, and the killer holds the bleeding noggin for the woman’s children (and moviegoers) to see. People die by hanging, as well, and a few are blown up. And one unfortunate soul is actually ironed to death—stuffed in a commercial cleaner’s ironing press. (We see the disfigured body afterward.)
Someone gets hit by a car and is thrown up in the air. Several people are electrocuted. Fights can be frenetic and feature fists, feet, headbutts and an array of unexpected battle implements. Someone is waterboarded. Anna takes a punch to the gut that leaves her breathless. A bookstore is shot all to pieces (damaging a dispiriting number of valuable books).
The f-word is used nearly 20 times, the s-word about seven. We also may hear the c-word, too. Other profanities include “b–ch,” “b–tard,” “d–n,” “p—y,” “h—” and the British profanity “bloody.”
A box of cigars is sent to a would-be evildoer/informant who, we see, enjoys smoking them. (Others smoke cigars, too.) Moody, Anna, Rembrandt and others drink scotch, wine, beer and whiskey. Champagne is served at a high-class party. We see what look to be packages of cocaine or heroin in a warehouse, along with a telltale scale.
“I can’t get all morally righteous,” Moody says. “I kill people for a living.”
Give props to Moody for being perhaps the only person in the film who isn’t fooling himself.
The Protégé is built on a familiar cinematic paradox: Its good guys kill people for a living. The bad guy (and he is quite bad) gives away millions to charity. But the film doesn’t ask us to really consider these ironies too deeply. It doesn’t want you to tax your brain cells as much as unleash your adrenal glands: Buckle up and enjoy the ride, and please, please don’t think too much.
But, of course, the elements here are worthy of some thought—the morality of a guy who kills people for a living, for instance … and the morality of us watching him, and his protégé, doing their bloody work.
We don’t often explicitly call what movies we choose to watch moral decisions, even here at Plugged In. Lots of Christians enjoy movies like this, and I can’t imagine St. Peter checking out our movie stubs as we face the Pearly Gates. And honestly, I found The Protégé to be a pretty entertaining romp in places. The chemistry between Anna and Rembrandt (played by Maggie Q and Michael Keaton) was fun to see, even if Rembrandt might be old enough to be Anna’s dad. The fight scenes were engaging and even clever, albeit with ever-so-much blood.
But still, maybe we should take a tip from Moody here. He knows that killing people is bad, even if it’s also lucrative and perhaps even justified. Even if watching violent, R-rated movies isn’t a mortal sin, can we let ourselves off the hook so easily, to say that the fun we might have at a movie justifies its excesses? The violence and sex, the language and blood? When we plop down money for a movie that doesn’t just occasionally show people behaving badly, but for a movie where that’s the whole point, is that bad?
I ask these questions often—not just because it’s my job, but because I like movies, and I love God, and I’d like the two to not have that same sense of paradoxical friction that Moody’s career does. I want the choices I make, on my own time and on my own dime, to honor God—even when it comes to a two-hour diversion.
These are not easy questions, and they don’t come with cookie-cutter answers. But I do like the honesty with which Moody faces his own moral quandaries.
Maybe we movie lovers should take a page from his book.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.