An unflinching gaze into the abyss, Gonin is a savage, stylish, and thoroughly absorbing work that starts as a crime thriller but morphs into a jet black exploration of death, loss, and meaning. The film's gangster flick set up -- a quintet of disenfranchised losers take out a yakuza office-- dispenses with genre formula by the second act: there are no explosions, no likeable characters, and no cathartic confrontations. Instead, there is impending, inescapable doom. As the mob's hitman bears down on the five like a wrathful god, their attempts to shelter their loved ones from their misdeeds inevitably leads to their demise. Their plight is reduced to a horrible clarity: either die with guns ablazing or die with a bullet in the back. Like the more famous works of Quentin Tarantino -- Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs -- this film features violence designed to jar the most jaded of audiences. Yet while the center of Tarantino's films lies in an ironic wink and nod, the center of Takashi Ishii's opus can be found in a heartfelt lust for death pushed to an extreme. Like by-standers watching a car wreck, the audience comes to share the director's dark bloodlust: the question is not will the characters die, but how. Gonin thrills and unnerves while standing as an exuberant celebration of the death impulse.
by Jonathan Crow review