'Ecco': Film Review

A great-looking but unpersuasively solemn hit-man brainteaser.
8/9/2019

A hit man tries to understand his hazy origins in Ben Medina's feature debut.

An assassin tries to escape the repercussions of a past he may not even remember in Ecco, a drama that never earns its intensely moody air of self-importance. An expensive-looking feature debut by writer-director Ben Medina, it has the audiovisual polish of an art house crime flick, and a twisty (if hardly unpredictable) conceit to match. But a surfeit of bad-ass mystery-man posturing and dearth of either convincing emotion or visceral kicks makes this pastiche unmoving, an assemblage of tropes few will enjoy wading through.

Our initially unidentified hero is played by a relative newcomer, Lathrop Walker, who resembles a perfume model created by geneticists who've spliced Will Forte's DNA with Garret Dillahunt's. He's mostly mute in opening scenes, as we watch him solemnly hijack a plane, kill a shady corporation's entire board of directors, woo a couple of blonds and beat a bunch of grizzled sailors at poker — you might call him the world's most interesting man, if only he registered any personality at all during these feats.

Given the variations in our Man of Mystery's appearance, we deduce that we're seeing him at a couple of points in time, before and after some episode that left his body scarred. The film keeps shifting between Story A and Story B, each of which places Mr. X (eventually identified as Michael) in a romance with a woman who's even less of a character than he is. There's the A story's blond photographer (Helena Grace Donald), who practically begs him to pick her up on a subway, and the B plot's love interest (Tabitha Bastien), who doesn't even get a hobby or profession — maybe because she's carrying Michael's child. These are women to make the Bechdel Test short-circuit and explode, and they do little to quash the feeling that we're living in the imagination of a teenage boy who hasn't yet met girls in real life.

Whether or not he knows it, Michael needs to protect both women from the secretive organization he works for. The group's nature is deliberately obscure until near the end — viewers will have guessed where we're headed before then — but it involves lots of cryptic messages in Shakespearean language and much talk of fathers and sons. Michael, it seems, is the favorite child of a wheelchair-bound old man he never visits. A second disabled gentleman has a strong interest in his whereabouts as well, and may be the guy who left our hero with all those scars.

Evidently, Michael wanted to be free of the hit-man game at some point, and paid a hefty price to make that happen, only to be forced back into it. If this and some of the film's incidental affectations — wax-sealed letters, messages in Braille — put one in mind of John Wick, so will a gimmick in which Michael has a hidden cache of weapons protected in an unlikely way. In this case, though, getting the key requires Michael to slice up his own forearm. Has the man never heard of a combination lock? A fingerprint scanner?

Despite many superficial reminders of the Wickiverse, Ecco ultimately has more in common with other, even more far-fetched genre forebears. To identify them here would be to ruin surprises for anyone embarking on the film's long and not very rewarding journey. In a film this intent on its own macho seriousness, any kind of pleasure should be guarded jealously.

Production company: Good Kingdom Group
Distributor: Citadel Film Group
Cast: Lathrop Walker, Tabitha Bastien, Helena Grace Donald, Mahria Zook, Michael Winters
Director-screenwriter: Ben Medina
Producers: Vincent Cardinale, Ben Medina, Jaime Roberts, Lathrop Walker
Executive producer: Joseph Piazza
Director of photography: Duncan Cole
Production designer: Regan Macstravic
Costume designer: Holly King
Editor: Tom Thorne
Composer: Chris Morphitis

R, 123 minutes