Kate is the latest in a long line of female-led assassin films, brought to us by Netflix. After proving her action talents in her supporting role in Birds of Prey, Mary Elizabeth Winstead excels again here, proving that she is incredibly engaging when it comes to being an action star. The problem is that the rest of this film just doesn’t live up to her performance.
Winstead stars as the titular Kate, an assassin who has been working for her handler Varrick (Woody Harrelson) for 12 years and by her own words, has “never missed”. Varrick adopted the orphaned Kate at a young age and taught her everything she knows about killing, sending her on missions with no questions asked. She’s sent to Osaka to kill a target whose teenage daughter is present and despite this breaching of their protocols, Kate is urged to complete the mission, following through with her orders and murdering the man in front of his daughter.
Ten months later, the events in Osaka are still lying heavy on Kate’s mind. She decides she wants to get out of the business and have a life, agreeing to Varrick that she will do one last job first in Tokyo. This last job being the assassination of Kijima (Jun Kunimura), the brother of the man she killed in Osaka and the boss of a Japanese crime family. Earlier that evening, Kate meets a stranger in a bar (Michiel Huisman) and takes him to bed before heading to the job. This mission fails as Kate begins to feel ill and she’s forced to seek help from a hospital. It turns out she’s suffering from acute radiation syndrome caused by being poisoned by polonium 204, and with no antidote, she has only hours to live.
Realising it was her one-night stand that poisoned her, Kate hunts him down and he reveals that it’s Kijima who wanted her dead. To be able to track him down, Kate must fight her way through Kijima’s entire organisation which also includes picking up his niece Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau) as a hostage.
Without a doubt, Kate looks great. The Tokyo setting looks fantastic and feels incredibly authentic (unsurprisingly, as it was filmed on location), although I would argue that they’ve gone a little overboard on the Japanese culture to the point where it seems incredibly clichéd. Neon signs and K-pop seem to feature constantly and while having never been to Japan to verify what it’s really like, some of this feels a bit too much. Fortunately, we are at least given a decent amount of fight scenes that have all been brilliantly choreographed, no doubt helped by Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s experience and the fact that she’s very engaging to watch in action. There can be no doubt that she has a future as an action star after watching this.
However, Winstead’s performance can’t bolster a very mediocre and predictable plot. While the idea to use radiation is a novel one, this type of film we’ve seen many times before, although I will give the filmmakers kudos for not trying to use a typical far-fetched Hollywood notion as a get-out clause for Kate’s predicament. How the film plays out though is very predictable and the twist at the end is entirely unsurprising. There is also little character development or background for anyone involved. The characters of Kate and Ani are perfect for developing further but instead, all we’re given is the bare minimum, a few features of personality and that’s it. We don’t even find out any more about Varrick and the organisation he either works for or owns, which doesn’t help with Harrelson’s performance that seems very by the numbers.
Had it not been for Mary Elizabeth Winstead and the Tokyo setting, Kate would be entirely forgettable and not really enjoyable either. However, fortunately, there’s just enough here to keep it watchable, if not particularly memorable, and with the likes of Atomic Blonde (director of this David Leitch acts as executive producer here), we’ve seen female assassin films done much better.
See all photos >>
A contract manager moonlighting as a rather discerning film and book critic, with an almost fangirl appreciation for anything made by Christopher Nolan. When I’m not catching up on my latest read or watch, you can usually find me trying out my amateur baking skills – Bake Off here I come!