The Protégé

Directed by Martin Campbell

Written by Richard Wenk

Starring Michael Keaton, Maggie Q, Samuel L. Jackson

If you walk out of Martin Campbell’s “The Protégé,” feeling like you’ve ‘been there, done that,’ it’s okay. Campbell has directed James Bond (“GoldenEye,” “Casino Royale”) brings everything he has to bear on the story of an assassin sorting out why she is constantly being attacked.

Campbell creates a suave, sleek looking about “The Protégé,” and Maggie Q (“Mission: Impossible-3,” “Fantasy Island,” TV’s “Nikita”) has the acting chops to carry the role of Anna, an assassin. The story implies that she is a contract for hire working high-profile contracts.

Samuel L. Jackson stars as Moody, her teacher. Much more than that, there is a familial role between the two characters. If you’ve watched the trailer for “The Protégé,” you have an idea of what happens to Moody. That’s not the end of the story, and it would be irresponsible to say that the story turns to revenge. It skirts the cliché in a rather elegant way.

You might be forgiven for thinking “The Protégé” is akin to “Atomic Blonde,” “Hanna,” “La Femme Nikita” or even “Anna.” Richard Wenk’s (“16 Blocks,” “The Equalizer”) script plays a game of ‘cat and mouse’ between Anna and Michael Keaton’s Rembrandt.

Their relationship is cheeky as they eye each other both for sex and as each other’s target. The story does a good job of hiding the real antagonist and introduces scenes familiar to Bond fans. Campbell’s direction is taut, and the pacing is on point.

Early in the film, during a contract, a kidnapping sets the stage for a confrontation with Mr. Big and when Anna gets the drop on him, we see just how smoothly and effortlessly she moves. Martial arts fans will appreciate the action and Maggie Q’s “no holds barred” approach. She is as hard as steel and although she gets worn down, she’s not down for the count.

This globetrotting story is set in London and in Vietnam. Bond cinematographer David Tattersall (“Die Another Day,” “7500,” “The Foreigner”) and Campbell have worked together. The movie spends a good portion of its run time indoors or at night with significant use of tight frames; master shots are used for exposition and add a welcomed layer to the visual quality of the film.

The scene where Maggie Q and Keaton meet for dinner is full of sly humor and effectively edited shots. Tattersall’s cinematography work is a highlight, especially given the nearly eye-blinding use of white lights. Anna’s red dress brilliantly shines (and I still wonder where she’d hide a weapon in that outfit.) Much like the introduction of Daniel Craig to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in “Casino Royale,” there is an elegance and a sharp edge to the underlying innuendo in that Campbell captures in “The Protégé.”

Because of its ‘been there, done that’ approach, “The Protégé” felt lukewarm when the film concluded. After sitting on it for a few days, there is much to be appreciated about it. Even though he has first billing, Keaton does not overshadow Maggie Q – it is very clearly her movie. Keaton’s dramatic and comedic timing plays well against the impending and aggressive action.

There are a number of surprise supporting roles in the film. If youi’ve already been on IMDb or the movie’s Wikipedia entry, you already know who’s along for this ride. You’ll need to see the movie to discover these hidden gems and how they fit into this puzzle.

The fact that I’ve warmed up the “The Protégé” does not imply that it would qualify for Movie of the Year. “The Green Knight” currently has that slot. For whiz-bang action, sly humor, and just a good time at the movies, you can’t go wrong with “The Protégé.”

R, 109 minutes, Millennium Media