Review | The Assignment (AKA Tomboy)

By Alix Turner
Published: November 28, 2017
The Assignment - AKA Tomboy

The Assignment (AKA Tomboy)

Title The Assignment (AKA Tomboy)
Director Walter Hill
Writer(s)  Walter Hill, Denis Hamill
Rating 15
Release Date March 13, 2017

What’s this?

A pulp thriller about a hitman’s revenge. And at the same time, a showcase of well-known, quality actors.

Oh yeah, who’s in The Assignment (AKA Tomboy) then?

Only Sigourney Weaver as a mad scientist, Tony Shalhoub as a psychiatrist, Anthony LaPaglia as a crook, and Michelle Rodriguez as the hitman mentioned above… That’s who!

OK, I’m interested, but… rewind: Michelle Rodriguez as a hitman?

Of course, I didn’t mention: the hitman wakes up stunned to find he’s been through meticulous gender reassignment surgery. Stunned, devastated and angry… This is why he seeks revenge, which is the main plot.

Ah yes, I recall some controversy from when this was first announced

Yeah that was interesting, though – having watched the film (and read the comics it was based on) – I must say the furore was quite misguided; a knee jerk response from transgender advocates. I’m not sure if they thought putting an obviously female actor in the role would present trans people wrongly, if the role itself would be bad, if the story was going to be so lurid as to be insulting to transgender people, or if the plot would make gender reassignment surgeons look like lunatics or whatnot… But let me have a go at some answers:

  • An actor who could play both genders needed to be chosen; there is no guarantee a trans actor could have done that any better than a female actor.
  • The role was that of a man who had been surgically changed to have female parts against his will; that is, inside his head, he was still a man… he was not a transgender character.
  • Yes, it’s lurid, in a pulp thriller kind of way; but there are pulp stories about all kinds of people.
  • The surgeon was indeed a lunatic, but that doesn’t mean someone who assists with gender reassignment is a bad person any more than Hannibal Lector makes all psychiatrists look like bad people.

So Walter Hill did OK, then?

Well he did a terrific job of the direction! I loved the pacing, lighting and the filming in general… But found a good deal of the characterisation and moral stance (as far as it went) a little too dated; especially the depiction of women in general. I’m a big fan of The Warriors (1979), and Southern Comfort (1981) was damn good quality; but I think they demonstrate that his strength does not lie in portraying women.

And Michelle Rodriguez… how did she fare at this trans thing?

Well despite the beard (and fleeting p***s!) in the opening few minutes, I must say she didn’t pass as male by appearance. Her acting could have been male; though I have considered many of the roles she has played in the past fairly gender-neutral.

It’s a pity the hitman character (Frank) didn’t get more airtime while male. In the comics, he was male – well, I’ll say “male-bodied”… he was always male on the inside – for the whole of the first issue (that’s one out of three). If it had been that proportion in the film, the viewer might have had the chance to get to know the male version, and Rodriguez playing male might, therefore, have been easier to accept.

You mentioned comics?

Recently, I spent four hours in Geek Retreat, Birmingham (my son was discovering role playing games) and found issue one. I didn’t recognise the name at first, but it looked interesting and kept my attention… at the back was an article about the history of the comic, and it mentioned the film. I bought the other two, read those and then rented the film.

The film is a decent adaptation in terms of the main plot line and the principal characters… but some significant subplots are ignored, making the film rather more simple in content than it really needed to be. And those subplots were pertinent to the main character’s development. If he’d kept the neat ending, which showed a change of direction for Frank, that might have resolved the dated feel to the story morals I mentioned earlier.

The series had a neat structure: issue one established the character of Frank, and introduced the crime that was done to him; issue two explored the fallout of the surgery and how he dealt with it; issue three focused on the revenge and its resolution. The film was definitely more gloss (and famous names!) than decent writing, which is a damned shame… especially as both were written by the same people.

Comics can be made into much better films than this… There are many examples. In this case, the story and characters worked much better in the comic medium.


Watch it out of curiosity, sure; but the comics are more worthy of your money. If you want to watch a decent action film that was adapted from comics (or – more correctly – graphic novels), I’d recommend Battle Royale; or if you’re really after a pulp thriller, Sin City.

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