Tom Jolliffe looks at an interesting entry into mid-90’s, straight to video action as Dolph Lundgren plays a haunted assassin in Silent Trigger…
By the time action titan, Dolph Lundgren had reached the middle of the 90’s, he’d become pretty much established as a video specialist. Though he’d make an appearance in the Keanu Reeves flop, Johnny Mnemonic, his impact on cinemas had all but waned, particularly in the US. This opening half of the 90’s however, was an interesting mix. He’d shared top billing alongside Brandon Lee in Showdown in Little Tokyo, as well as Jean-Claude Van Damme in Universal Soldier, two of his more popular films among aficionados.
What was perhaps interesting though, was Lundgren’s desire to move outside of the expectations his name brought, and expand his horizons. He tended to experiment a little more than his contemporaries. Steven Seagal’s opening 7-8 films interchange from cop thrillers, eco films and Under Siege films. 3 archetypes, and within those, quite interchangeable. Van Damme had a niche and largely stuck to it. Lundgren didn’t necessarily have a standout identifying trait or trademark besides his looks and size, but at the same time (perhaps to his detriment) he didn’t seem to want to be pinned down. This gave fans an odd mix of varying success with films like Cover Up (a John Grisham-esque conspiracy Thriller that didn’t work), Pentathlon (just an oddity with Lundgren playing a Pentathlete who defects from his Nazi coach), Men Of War (a thoughtful spin on Dances With Wolves, written by Oscar Winner John Sayles, though sprinkled in rewrites with Lundgren friendly action elements), or The Shooter (a 60’s Euro Thriller inspired film).
Then came Silent Trigger. On the surface it had all the elements to be a routine but enjoyable action film. Lundgren, an impressive sniper rifle, and from the director of Highlander. Interestingly, the script in its original form was almost Tarkovskian. A single setting psychological horror set in a tower, slow burning, where an Assassin awaits his intended target. It may have had shades of The Shining, or akin to something you might see from Nicolas Winding Refn these days.
With Dolph on board, the action is taken temporarily away from the central tower location in the form of flashbacks to his previous job gone awry. It’s where the majority of the films action comes (aside from a bloody and carnage filled finale within the tower at the finale). Alongside Lundgren, is his spotter, played with sultry enigma by Gina Bellman. Initially written as a man but re-invented as female, presumably to add some sexual tension to proceedings.
Though the darker more psychological intentions of the original version gets muted somewhat, elements of that still remain, combined with some impressive action set pieces. For Lundgren it’s an interesting opportunity to play a more introspective role with a little more complexity than normal. He has some decent moments, even if he may have benefited from stronger direction. There-in lies a catch 22 with a visually focused director like Russell Mulcahy. The film looks gorgeous. It’s brimming with colour, shadows and texture. It’s a beautiful work, but Mulcahy was known less for intense focus on his actors and more for those glorious visuals. Regardless, it’s one of Lundgren’s more interesting performances of that time.
The film, which is driven a lot by metaphysical subtext and psychological characterisation, lacks the thrusting plot that many genre fans may have expected and leaves a lot of elements intentionally vague. There are a lot of Art-house tropes to the film which tended to confuse fans with an expectation for a simple Assassins shoot em up. Okay, so it doesn’t entirely work on either front, though it has often been overlooked for those artistic merits (because who’s going to look for those in a Dolph Lundgren video actioner?). Additionally, the film is also hampered by some clunky dialogue in places, though English wasn’t the screenwriters first language.
A haunting, engaging and atmospheric score from Stefano Mainetti also gives the film a unique and interesting soundtrack which is way beyond many video action films of the era. It helps envelope the film with a sense of foreboding that additionally combines with the photography and set and makes the building become a character itself. An ominous sense of fatalism resides within the tower itself, which has rubbed off not only on the shooter and his young partner, but the other inhabitants, including an obnoxious, drug addled security guard who has worked one two many nights in the building.
Perhaps the film may have benefited from a stronger focus on one particular genre, as there’s a sense of identity struggle in places, but regardless, given the straight to video market of the time, it remains one of the more fascinating entries, with a number of memorable elements. To an extent though, it signalled something of an end (for a time) of Lundgren trying to push out of his expectations. The odd anomaly aside such as The Minion (though originally intended as more direct horror, became a kind of tame end of millennium action film), he went back to more conventional action fare for a number of years before a creative renaissance saw him step behind the directors chair (albeit in formula films). Fans of Refn or oddities like this may enjoy checking out Silent Trigger, available on Prime UK and US currently.
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due in 2020/21, including The Witches Of Amityville Academy (starring Emmy winner, Kira Reed Lorsch), Tooth Fairy: The Root of Evil and the star studded action film, Renegades. Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.