Review – Shades of a Killer (DVD)

Knight Productions:

Title: Shades of a Killer
Production: Knight Productions
Genre: Drama, Action, Neo-noir

Some say that if the German poet Goethe had written in English he’d be a serious contender for the crown of “Greatest Writer Ever,” which many believe Shakespeare wears in literary heaven.

Goethe’s lasting masterpiece, still talked about by scholars and art lovers today, is the tragic play Faust.

What does Faust have to do with British film maker Kemal Yildirim’s Shades of a Killer? Well, for starters, I was exploring Goethe’s imaginary world for the first time when Shades of a Killer appeared next on my list of pending reviews.

The two seemed to fall together nicely, helping to make sense of both Faust (who sells his soul to the devil but ultimately is redeemed) and Jaan, the reflective assassin played by Yildirim in the film that he also writes and directs.

Like Faust, Jaan realizes that life is largely about ethical choices. Some folks nurture love, others hate. Others try to straddle these disparate worlds by respecting their enemies. And others, represented in both the characters of Faust and Jaan, find themselves enmeshed in darkness but are always hoping to find their way back into the light.

Theologians describe this as a developmental approach to redemption (i.e. “don’t give up, you’ll get there in the end”), a dynamic portrayed in Goethe’s interplay between Mephistopheles and Faust.

Mephistopheles is the devilish character who tempts Faust and, theologically speaking, represents the idea of necessary evil. Thinkers like John Hicke (and St. Irenaeus before him) contend that, without the likes of Mephistopheles, mankind would never be compelled to choose, overcome the bad, and nurture the good. Accordingly, Mephistopheles calls himself:

Part of that force which would
Do evil evermore, and yet creates the good.†

As a sort of composite of Mephistopheles and Faust, Jaan sinks deeper and deeper into the grim complexities of violence and turf warfare, but he and his wife are forever hoping to make a clean break and start again.

This is the most encouraging aspect of the film. Another interesting aspect is that Jaan is not just a top gun but also an accomplished martial artist. In several scenes, leather clad combatants drop their weapons in favor of good, old fashioned Kung Fu kickout–scenes which, on the whole, are well choreographed.

A very intense film, to be sure. It does, however, contain moments of sincere human tenderness. While some of the secondary characters are a bit one dimensional (perhaps because the film was inspired by comic books), the main players are fully human. Indeed, the gentle and loving “we can work it out” scenes with Jaan and his wife give the story some necessary breathing space, balance and hope.

And this brings us back to the comparison with Faust, a play that runs the whole gamut from heaven to hell. Like Faust, Shades of a Killer is paradoxically realistic and hypnotic, hard hitting and dreamlike. The film’s uneasy tension – both moral and stylistic – grips our attention right up to the final scene. Without giving out a spoiler, the story ends on an ironically humorous note, revealing a directorial style reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock, Quentin Tarantino and other masters of film noir.


† Quoted from Walter Kaufman, Discovering the Mind: Goethe, Kant and Hegel, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1980, p. 30.


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