Despite a frame that begins and ends the movie on Coney Island in Brooklyn, N.Y., this 2002 bilingual romantic thriller about a hitman falling in love with tango brings the gray streets and sexually charged dance halls of Buenos Aires vividly to life. In fact, it “gets” Buenos Aires in all its glorious details, from the elementary schoolchildren clad in uniforms that look like miniature lab coats to the dog walkers trotting along behind a veritable herd of canines. Almost nothing ever takes place at street level.
The hitman, played by Robert Duvall (who also directed), is always climbing to the upper floors of buildings to get an overview, or plunging down stairs to a subterranean dance club where he seeks to make the city’s obsession with tango his own. And that’s where the soundtrack gets Buenos Aires right as well, as passion and control vie with each other in the taut, simmering rhythms of tango. Piercing single high triplets played on an accordion resound from every street corner, and to see a couple break into spontaneous dance is not unusual.
With its long, slow conversations and its sudden spasms of action, “Assassination Tango” has the Buenos Aires beat down pat. --David Lyon