As soon as Ron Perlman (“Sons of Anarchy”) read Jay Zaretsky’s script for “Asher,” he knew it was a character he wanted to play. Perlman’s instincts were not wrong, as “Asher” is a captivating character study presented with an equal amount of ethos and pathos.
Asher is a former Mossad agent who has spent most of his life killing people for money. He lives a sparse, structured life where his time is divided between work and his interest in cooking. The comfort Asher finds in his lifestyle begins to fall apart when he realizes he can no longer trust the world he has built around himself.
One of the biggest signs it may be time for a change is when Asher goes against his strict code of controlled emotions. Against his better judgment, Asher begins to have feelings for Sophie (Famke Janssen), a woman who he got to know after a meet-cute that would only be appreciated by the National Association of Hired Killers.
The emotional shift is dangerous and Asher quickly realizes the only way he can have love in his life is to completely erase the man he has been and become someone new.
As Perlman has grown older, his face has become even more expressive, especially as characters who are tough by design. Perlman is one of the few actors who can play an evil character but still make him sympathetic enough an audience will root for him to succeed in a transition from the dark into the light.
He also has the acting skills to show a warmer side. No scene in “Asher” reveals that better than the one where Asher tracks Sophie down at the dance studio where she works. Only a faint smile crosses his face, but it is enough to show a glimpse of the man Asher could become if he can survive.
Janssen brings out the best in Perlman in quiet scenes where the two share light conversations. Zaretsky’s dialogue is casual banter a couple might share on a first date. The only difference is Asher struggles with revealing too much about himself. At the same time, Sophie is dealing with her own problems that include taking care of her mother (Jacqueline Bisset).
A strong supporting cast includes Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws”) as the man behind the deadly jobs Asher has been doing and Peter Facinelli (“Twilight”) as Asher’s prime student and new competition. Bisset (“Murder on the Orient Express”) is particularly good in the role of a woman whose degenerating state makes her a constant challenge.
Director Michael Caton-Jones uses the characters wisely to help keep the story moving. But “Asher” is at its best when Perlman is either alone or in scenes with Janseen. The simplicity of a tale about a man looking to redefine his concept of right and wrong is powerful enough to carry the movie.
Starring Ron Perlman, Famke Janssen and Jacqueline Bisset. Directed by Michael Caton-Jones.
Rated R for violence, language. Check listings for theaters. 1 hour, 57 minutes.
Bottom line: Captivating character study
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