Movie Misfires: Assassins (1995)
Does this action flick about hitmen, suppressed pistols, and floppy disks hold up to scrutiny and the passage of 25 years?
Assassins (1995), celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, is a movie of big stars (for the time) and small, suppressed handguns, for the most part. From a gun nerd perspective, it does something with the idea of contract killers and the guns they use that I haven’t seen in a movie since.
Instead of having the latest, cutting edge technology in terms of firearms, the hitmen in this movie tend to favor small caliber, small-sized handguns with short barrels and suppressors—and older models at that.
This makes it unique in the fact that it’s a movie full of shooting and gunfights, but we only hear maybe two or three unsuppressed gunshots throughout, giving it a much different feeling than a typical action movie.
Here’s the setup: we have an established hitman, who goes by the professional name Robert Rath (Sylvester Stallone). He’s at the top of his game and gets all the good jobs, having reached legendary status among other assassins. He’s also starting to question his profession and is growing a conscience. He already had specific rules about the contracts he would take, but even that is starting to eat at him.
The trouble starts when he runs into a younger, ambitious, and somewhat reckless assassin, Miguel Bain (Antonio Banderas), who idolizes Rath and is getting double booked for the same jobs. They have essentially been pit against one another by their contractor, with whom they only communicate via some ancient text messaging program on their laptops.
The main plot involves a McGuffin in the form of a floppy disk—yes this movie is rife with 1990s computer and hacker clichés that are particularly hilarious now. It holds…important information downloaded by a hacker, Electra (Julianne Moore). When her planned sale of the disk dissolves in a hail of bullets, she winds up on the run with Rath, who cannot bring himself to kill the young hacker.
So then it’s Rath with Electra with the disk being pursued by Bain with them all meeting for an unavoidable showdown in Puerto Rico when they attempt to sell the disk for a suitcase of money.
We learn from the dialog that Rath’s preferred tool of the trade is a Ruger Mark .22LR pistol (we see Mark I and Mark II pistols alternating without continuity throughout the movie) that have been specially modified to have just enough barrel to thread on a suppressor, which ends up almost flush with the receiver, giving it the appearance of an integrally suppressed pistol or a bull barrel target pistol.
During the excellent cab sequence, Miguel, who idolizes Rath while wanting to kill him and take his place as the best of the best, says, “A silenced Ruger .22. Classic. You know, I switched when I heard that’s what you used. Oh, ah, excuse this (holding up his carbine). It was a long shot. But a good one, wasn’t it?”
This makes a lot of sense and shows the filmmakers put some thought into the kind of guns their assassins would use in this universe. The idea is that killers of this caliber are such good shots and will get so close to their target, that a short-barreled .22 LR is more than enough.
Now, do they commit the sin of super silencers? Yes, the gunshots in this movie sound like a bit like lasers and they are ultra quiet. But, one could make the case that the offense isn’t as bad as other movies, because of the fact the suppressed guns being depicted are .22s, likely sub-sonics, being fired from very short barrels with relatively long suppressors.
However, the damage done by the pistols is a little bit over the top with .22 LRs blowing 9mm-sized holes clean through walls and people, but it doesn’t go too far for an action movie. The film also commits the sin of the never-ending magazine. The only reload I can recall, through several shootouts with a lot of rounds fired, is at the very end, when Bain slips a hidden full mag into his Ruger at the opportune time (in the clip below). Even if my memory is faulty, there certainly aren’t as many reloads as there should be for 10-round capacity pistols.
Now, the suppressed centerfire rifle fire depicted in the third act of the movie is total super-silencer BS.
Additionally, there are a few other over-the-top action movie moments that are fairly typical: in one scene, Rath sets a gas line ripped from a stove to explode with the help of a pool of high-proof liquor. Bain picks up a table to shield himself from the fireball, which blows him through a window and a three-story fall to the grass below—and miraculously, he’s a little banged up, but nothing a hot bath can’t fix.
This isn’t a super-serious hitman movie, but it’s not a goofy action movie in there…it’s somewhere int he middle as so many mid-90s action movies are.
All in all, as a film, I think this is a somewhat dated, but underrated action movie and deserves to be in the top 10 best hitman movies list.
ROBERT RATH’S GUNS
Ruger Mark I/Mark II Pistol
We see Rath use one primary pistol, a Ruger Mark I or II with aftermarket grey-colored wrap-around grips. He keeps this pistol throughout the movie, and from the wear on the receiver and suppressor, as well as the grip, we see he’s been using it for a while—going against movie hitman 101 logic that a gun is disposed of after every hit, or even left at the scene.
Rath does not use a holster for the Ruger, which he usually tucks into his waistband.
Something else worth noting about Rath in general—he doesn’t dress well, and its purposeful. He wears baggy clothes in tones of beige and tan. Khakis with brown shoes, a sweater vest, simple tie, and an unremarkable, boxy brown sport jacket is his uniform for the first chunk of the movie.
It’s about the farthest thing from John Wick’s expertly tailored, slick suits. In 1995, it’s how someone who truly wanted to blend into a crowd and look unforgettable would dress and I always thought it was a nice touch.
His clothes also match his personality. Rath does everything he can to fly under the radar and be as unobtrusive as possible. This is displayed starkly when both and and Bain take different approaches to get to Electra and her disk during the sham buy at the hotel.
Bain kills a literal room full of Interpol agents, leaving a trail of bodies in a public place, just to find out that Electra isn’t even there. In contrast, Rath takes his time, does a little sleuthing, and gets to Electra without firing a shot.
Later, Bain kills one of Electra’s neighbors, mistaking the woman for his mark, along with the neighbor’s husband, just because he walks into the wrong apartment.
Bain, in contrast, is a bit more flashy, with distinct long, curly hair, better fitting dark suits over t-shirts, and a fairly noticeable silver chain link bracelet. This is done to highlight his more reckless nature, but also to enhance the contrast between their attitudes and their age and maturity difference.
Remington Model 700 Rifle
The Ruger is the only gun Rath uses throughout the movie, other than a flashback to a hit he did in the 1980s in which he fires a suppressed Remington Model 700 bolt action rifle fitted with a Hi-Lux “Camputer” scope. We also see an older version of the Ruger pistols he prefers, this one with a slightly bulkier suppressors and a tape-wrapped grip.
MIGUEL BAIN’S GUNS
Claridge LEC9 Carbine
Miguel, as I said, uses similar Ruger pistols to Rath’s, though his are a little less beat up and have matte black grips.
When we first meet Miguel Bain during the cemetery hit, where Rath opts to get close, concealing his pistol in a white cast on his arm (which seems a bit less than inconspicuous to me), Bain takes the shot first from a distance with an interesting carbine.
It’s actually a pistol that fans of the original Total Recall should recognize, the Claridge LEC9, the carbine version of the company’s Hi-Tech/Goncz GC pistol line.
It’s outfitted with a suppressors that fits flush against the LEC9’s handguard, which implies the barrel of the 9mm is cut down. The gun is topped with a high magnification scope on low profile mounts and the LEC9’s standard buttstock.
Ruger Mark I/Mark II Pistol
In San Juan, Miguel uses an integrally suppressed Remington Model 7 compact rifle with a Leatherwood ART scope and a thumb-cut stock while trying to set up the same shot on Rath that Rath set up on his partner back in the 80s.
From the chamberings offered for that rifle, and the ammunition we see in an elastic ammo sleeve on Miguel’s right forearm, the Model 7 seems to be chambered in .223 Rem.
Electra ruins Miguel’s shot by wounding him with Rath’s Ruger, sending him crashing through the floor of the dilapidated hotel.
She grabs his rifle, eventually figures out how to work the bolt, and take a couple wild shots at Miguel. Later, when Rath arrives, she gives him his pistol back and he removes the bolt from the rifle, tossing it away and disabling it.
Remington Model 7 Rifle – Integrally Suppressed
Again, showing someone took time to think about the guns in this movie, an integrally suppressed .223, at the time, would have been about as quiet of a setup as you could get for a centerfire rifle with enough ass to make the necessary shot.
If the movie were made today, something in .300 BLK would likely be used.
Additionally, the scope is a 2.5-10×44 optic with an automatic range finding feature—it’s the same scope on Rath’s rifle in the flashback. Miguel’s scope is mounted with a quick-release mount that allows it to be removed from the rifle while maintaining zero.
When we first meet Robert Rath, he is wearing muck boots and walking a fellow hitman into a bog to be executed. The man knows it’s coming and talks endlessly, laughing as he has to sacrifice his shoes and socks to the mud.
“When I first saw you I wasn’t scared. I was just wondering why you were wearing those damn boots. Now I know.”
When they come to the end of the road, the mark asks him for a last favor. In response, Rath pulls a suppressed Walther PP pistol from his jacket—the other hitman’s gun—ejects the magazine into the water and holds it by the kneeling man’s head.
“It’s chambered,” Rath says.
“Thank you,” the hitman says, and then looking at his Walther he says, “My old friend,” before committing suicide.
This scene further reinforced the idea that hitmen in the movie’s world have a thing for small, suppressed, old-school pistols. The original Walther PP was introduced back in 1929. The PPK, a smaller version of the pistol with a shorter grip made famous by James Bond, was released the following year in 1930. The PPK/S was introduced in response to the Gun Control Act of 1968, which placed certain requirements on handguns imported into the U.S. They combined the PP’s larger frame with the PPK’s barrel and slide to create a handgun that met the necessary weight requirements and allow importation.
Heckler & Koch PS9
During the big reveal when we find out that Rath and Bain’s contractor has been Rath’s old partner Nicolai Tashlinkov, who he thought he’d killed years earlier. Tashlinkov, knowing that Rath always went for a heart shot with a rifle, put a piece of Teflon armor beneath his shirt in just the right spot, allowing Rath to believe he’d killed him so he could fake his death and become an arms dealer.
Tashlinkov is armed with an HK P9S pistol. A bit more modern than the other handguns in the movie, and certainly more modern looking, the 9mm semi-auto was introduced in 1969. At one point, the P9S was adopted by the U.S. Navy for use with a suppressor. Because the pistol has a fixed barrel, it could operate reliably with a suppressor without compensating for the added muzzle mass and movement of the barrel in a tilting barrel design. Again, a well thought out choice by the filmmakers.
Interpol Agents and Bodyguards
Some of the only actual gun shots we hear in the movie are fired from Beretta 92FS pistols carried by the useless bodyguards at the cemetery. They pull them after Bain, disguised as a landscaper, takes out his mark from a distance with his carbine.
At the hotel, during the sting set up by Interpol, they are carrying a variety of handguns, including a SIG Sauer P229, H&K USP, and a Glock 17, all suppressed. Additionally, Bain takes a compact Sphinx AT-380M pistols with a small, flat-sided suppressor attached, off a female Interpol agent after killing her and her partner.
A lot of thought went into the firearms, their calibers, modifications, and accessories by someone who knows about guns, and they almost acted as another character, giving this old-school style action flick a very distinct feel and tone. The pistols used also make it feel a bit exotic, as nothing like them has really been seen in movies before or since.
While the choice of .22s and suppressors would make for some quiet shots, the movie is guilty of using super-suppressors that make gunshots far quieter than they would be in real life, especially on the 9mm Calico and the bolt gun at the end.
However, I will says that we hear the metallic clanking noises of the pistol’s action along with the “zip” sound of the suppressed gunshots, something I’d never heard articulated in a movie before this one.
There are also not enough reloads and the .22LR bullets do a bit too much damage.