Director Michael Caton-Jones has a few interesting runs on the board, with his best film being 1995’s Rob Roy, but he’s been languishing a bit since 2006’s Basic Instinct 2 crashed and burned. Here he brings a journeyman’s efficiency and a practiced eye to the proceedings, using real locations to good effect (Syracuse standing on for Brooklyn) to draw us into the sepia-toned, ritualistic world of Jewish organised crime (see also: Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America, David Mamet’s Homicide, or even Sidney Lumet’s oddity, A Stranger Among Us for more in this vein).
ASHER's key strength, though, is its cast. Perlman brings real complexity to the role of Asher, using his physicality to good effect (in his severe suit and handmade leather shoes, Asher looks like Karloff’s Frankenstein in silhouette) but also giving us a sense of his oppressive loneliness and yearning for connection. Janssen, always an underrated performer, makes Sophie not a prize to be won but a real person with her own life and problems – chief among them her mother, Dora (Jacqueline Bisset), who is suffering from advanced dementia. Bisset herself is remarkable in that challenging role, with Dora functioning as both a rather horrifying harbinger of old age (something Asher wrestles with) and a character in her own right. The character’s presence also allows for some gallows humour as Asher, who lest we forget is not just a nice guy but a really efficient killer, offers the most obvious solution to the issue at hand.
As a crime thriller, ASHER hits familiar beats with perfunctory precision, just like its hulking protagonist. It’s charm lies not in its genre trappings, but in the way it works as a late life romantic drama dressed up in John Wick’s old clothes. Asher is meditative rather than pulse-pounding, so while it won’t sate those solely looking for shoot-em-up set-pieces, it’s a quietly commanding little film nonetheless.
ASHER is available on DVD through Eagle Entertainment on April 4, 2019.