Written by: Matt Patti | January 14th, 2021
Flinch (Cameron Van Hoy, 2021) 2½ out of 4 stars.
Often times throughout the course of my life, typically after watching a film or show on the subject, I’ve thought deeply about the life of a hitman. Portrayed as cunning and void of emotion, hitmen seemingly carry out their work with little thought about their actions and nonexistent remorse. However, I’ve always pondered the question of whether there are any targets that, no matter the pay grade, they simply could not kill, and why? Do these stone-cold assassins have any shred of humanity? Do they have any mercy? My answer to my own question is always “Yes.” I do believe that, no matter the seniority or skill of said hitman, there is always at least one target that is different and which renders them unable to fulfill their contract. I always thought that the idea would make an intriguing film. Luckily enough for me, the riveting scenario is brought to life in director Cameron Van Hoy’s debut featured, the crime-thriller Flinch.
Flinch follows young hitman Joe Doyle (Daniel Zovatto, Vandal), who still lives with his mother, Gloria (Cathy Moriarty, Patti Cake$). The film begins with Joe taking out three criminals who meet up to do business. Hired as a result of a debt to be paid, Joe carries out hits on many so-called “bad men,” so he never really feels any kind of emotion when doing the act of killing. However, Joe’s next contract, a dirty businessman, comes with complications. The man’s office assistant, Mia (Tilda Cobham-Hervey, I Am Woman), witnesses his murder at Joe’s hands. Joe takes quick action and captures Mia, but cannot bring himself to kill her. He takes her back to his mother’s house and locks her in his bedroom, still unsure of how he will handle the situation. Soon, Joe begins to take a liking to Mia, further complicating his dilemma. However, the organization for which Joe works soon realizes the threat of Mia’s supposed disappearance. Joe now understands that he must make a very difficult decision in order to protect himself and his mother. But is Joe really capable of murdering an innocent woman?
Joe’s unique character, a mama’s boy hitman, is a great strength of the film. It isn’t too often we see a film with a hitman who lives with his mother. As a result, we explore a character who has a wide range of emotions and behaviors. While out on a mission, Joe is cunning and merciless. However, at home with his mom Gloria, he takes on an almost child-like demeanor. Joe respects his mother and follows her very strict house rules yet also becomes annoyed when she tries to take care of his business. Gloria is actually more dastardly and less empathetic than Joe. Gloria knows all about what Joe does but gets angry when he brings business home. Therefore, she attempts to eliminate the problem herself, leading to conflict between her and Joe. The dynamic between Joe and Gloria is actually the film’s strongest, most engaging relationship, more-so than Joe and Mia’s.
The moral dilemma Joe faces is another intriguing piece of the film. The stone-cold assassins that force him to carry out these jobs couldn’t care less about people and kill anyone in their way. Joe, however, only can kill those whom he deems “bad.” Otherwise, he struggles with it, specifically when it comes to Mia. His struggle and constant war within himself over what he should do with Mia is fascinating to see play out. Their captor-prisoner dynamic is strong, and they begin to trust each other more, little by little, as time goes on. However, neither are entirely sure they can fully put faith in the other, which leads to an ever-tense atmosphere.
Unfortunately, though, while Joe and Mia’s prisoner-captor relationship works well in the beginning, once Joe begins to really take a liking to Mia it becomes a bit unbelievable. Joe is illustrated from the beginning as a depressed, lonely guy who watches romantic movies at night because he is feeling down about living inside his mother’s house with no other companion. Joe holds on to this idea that since Mia did not flinch when he held a gun to her face (thus the title of the film!), she is therefore special. However, this does not accurately explain why he develops feelings for her and the romantic part of the relationship feels forced. Another thing in the film that does not work is the pacing. Some scenes fly by and Mia and Joe’s relationship specifically develops much too fast. Also, Joe makes some very stupid, amateurish decisions that lead him into bad situations that most hitmen would not ever make, which is a bit frustrating to see.
Overall, though, Flinch is a fascinating look at the life of an unusual hitman. The chemistry between Joe and Gloria shines, the dilemma Joe faces creates angst in the audience and leaves them guessing, and there is great tension throughout the film. The romantic leg of Joe and Mia’s relationship could be improved, and the film has other unrealistic elements, but I don’t mind them as much thanks to the strong character development. The film is well-made, features impressive performances, an entertaining, twisting plot, and asks the audience to put themselves in the shoes of each character and decide what we would do. Thankfully, most of us will never have to contemplate Joe’s conundrum.