Dusk for a Hitman

American movies about hitmen tend to follow a specific template. The character is usually a loner with few personal connections. They’re laconic and introspective, possibly conflicted about what they do. Most notably, they almost always have some sort of mystique built around them. The intense French-Canadian thriller Dusk for a Hitman bucks those conventions. Its central figure has a wife he loves and a brother he’s close to. He views his job as just what it is – a job. And there’s no mystique. From the looks of him, he could be a car salesman as easily as a contract killer.

His name is Donald Lavoie (Éric Bruneau) and he works for crime boss Claude Dubois (Benoît Gouin). Theirs is a relationship built on trust. Lavoie does what he’s told with deadly accuracy. In return, he’s compensated nicely, allowing him to enjoy a decent life with wife Francine (Rose-Marie Perreault). The tide turns when Dubois asks him to kill his own brother, Carl (Simon Landry-Desi), a screw-up who has been trying to get into the gang and making a nuisance of himself in the process. A diligent cop named Roger Burns (Sylvain Marcel) offers protection in exchange for evidence against Dubois, thereby putting him in a tenuous situation.


There are certainly a few bloody scenes in Dusk for a Hitman, but not many. Those that are here are meant solely to convey Lavoie’s guilt-free lethality. Much of the film is a psychological study of what happens when he is forced to choose between loyalty to his boss and loyalty to his brother. Director Raymond St-John wrings suspense from that idea, as Lavoie knows choosing his brother will put a target on his head and choosing Dubois will create a scenario where he can’t live with himself. Tension is generated from watching him uncomfortably weigh his options.

Bruneau is terrific in the lead role, demonstrating how the character internalizes his dilemma. Pulling a trigger is easy; choosing a side is much harder for him, especially since he realizes his life changes dramatically either way. Because of the actor’s performance, you empathize with his plight, despite the unconscionable things he does. Gouin is also very good, conveying Dubois’ menace without overdoing it. He’s a screen villain who seems authentic.

Dusk for a Hitman has beautiful widescreen composition that helps the underworld locations come to life. The movie creates an atmosphere of danger, then gets you wondering how – or if – Lavoie will get out of it. By the end, we receive something unexpected, namely a suggestion that a hitman’s ruthlessness is a tool that can be used to take another’s life or save his own. It’s a compelling message in a thriller that feels refreshingly different from the norm.

out of four

Dusk for a Hitman is rated R for strong violence, and language throughout, some sexuality, and nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.

© 2024 Mike McGranaghan