Released in select theaters nation-wide today, then on digital platforms on January 21st, Flinch captures a few exciting days in the life of a gun range employee who’s also a professional hitman. Professional, that is, until he “catches feelings” for a girl who witnesses his most recent hit.
Joe Doyle (Daniel Zovatto) is a 30-something shooting range employee who lives with his quarrelsome mom, played by Academy Award nominee Cathy Moriarty. Joe’s father, Joseph (Steven Bauer), is in prison, apparently due to getting caught for committing a murder-for-hire of his own. Working off his father’s debt — presumably incurred from whatever failed incident put him in prison — to a father and son gangster operation, Joe assassinates a city council member. Unfortunately, this hit is witnessed by the man’s assistant, Mia (Tilda Cobham-Hervey). Unable to terminate this loose end, Joe brings Mia home and his situation spirals out of control.
Opening up the trunk of his car in a remote area and aiming his Beretta 92 at Mia, Joe intends to kill the only witness to his earlier hit, but just can’t do it. You see, Mia didn’t flinch.
“The girl who didn’t flinch” is the central tenet of the movie, effectively. It’s some sort of belief of Joe’s father that a person who doesn’t flinch when faced with the business end of a hitman’s gun is either absolutely pure or “certainly not innocent.” At any rate, for apparently no other reason than the fairly absurd flinch thing Joe balks at tying up this loose end and brings Mia home to figure out what he’s going to do.
At first, Joe’s mom is particularly against having a prisoner tied up in the house, but not for the reasons you might think: she wants the witness dead and even prepares to do it herself. But it turns out Mia is awfully cute as well as smart, a bit sassy, and fairly resourceful.
In short order mom has warmed up to her — to a somewhat uncomfortable level, perhaps, arranging a romantic date night dinner for the kids and giving Mia an old prom-like dress to wear — while Mia and Joe get all swoony. Doesn’t hurt that Joe is a broody, lonely boy and probably would have fallen for any girl that he kidnapped and tied to his bed for a couple days.
Throwing a wrench in their happily ever after, Mia is officially missing from society (what with the kidnapping) and Joe’s gangster family employer realizes she’s a loose end who must be terminated, though they don’t know Joe has her. At first assigning Joe to the task of tracking down and eliminating Mia, the situation degrades until the lovebirds are fighting for their lives.
With a twist.
Flinch isn’t John Wick. Firearm handling and use in the movie is amateurish, including basic safety and handling at the gun range when Joe assists a customer in clearing a jammed pistol. For a professional hitman, Joe doesn’t pass on-screen muster of having any mild-to-moderate proficiency with a handgun.
That said, it isn’t so bad — his handling or anyone else’s — that it detracted from the movie for me. Much. The scene inside the shooting range was painful to watch. It earned a hard cringe from me and I opened my mouth to complain to the wife but stopped myself (she doesn’t want to hear it).
The gun fights, however, were fine. Less realism than some movies but they were exciting and filmed well.
Though not a gun fight, as it turned out, the bloody fight to the death between Joe and the city council member was a surprise. It helped set the tone for a grittier movie than I anticipated going into it, and made it clear that Joe is either fairly new to the hitman game or not particularly good at it, though the rest of Flinch wants the viewer to believe otherwise.
Flinch is a bit film noir, a bit retro, a bit formulaic. With the exception of the plot twist, which we were waiting for (it felt mandatory, though we didn’t anticipate its exact form and it certainly did improve the movie), Flinch progressed exactly as you’d expect, but with a louder and much stranger soundtrack that I’m guessing the studio thinks is really cool but mostly reminded me of the royalty free music I have to use for my crappy YouTube channel. No offense, Synthwave fans.
Perhaps my biggest complaint about Flinch is that too little time was spent making the viewer care about the lead character, Joe. Little development and little personality left a flat character, and nobody in my little viewing group really cared one way or the other about him. Or about any other characters, for that matter, with the exception of Mia who was both an innocent victim and quite easy to like.
Perhaps ten minutes of background story showing what happened to Joe’s dad and how it affected Joe, how he got into or was forced into the hitman trade, why he’s indebted to the gangster family and what sort of burden this is/has been to him and his mom, the story behind his employment at a shooting range, etc., would have helped. Regardless, Joe’s character really needed to be fleshed out.
Ultimately, Flinch is a character movie, not an action film, and failing to more deeply develop the characters was a mistake.
Furthermore, the pivotal premise of the movie, the entire “flinch” thing for which the movie is titled, is as silly as it is likewise undeveloped. Do we know how or why Joseph came to this philosophy (assuming he did; perhaps it was passed down for many generations of Doyles), or why Joe feels he should take this sort of canonical advice from his imprisoned father? No. No we don’t. It’s just a deeply held belief of the Doyle clan, but considering how strange and random and non-intuitive it is, Flinch fails to make it a belief of the viewer.
Flinch is a good enough, interesting enough, exciting enough movie that we were glad to have watched it. If we had paid to watch it in a theater we would have been disappointed. Having streamed it at home, it was a movie night spent just fine.
From a TTAG perspective I had hoped for more gun guy stuff — more shooting range training time, some impressive gun handling, at least a few interesting firearms — but guns are just a work tool for Joe, of no other interest to him or the movie. On the other hand, a couple of the action sequences were engaging and filmed well, and the pace of Flinch was solid.
When Flinch hits streaming, whether free on some service you subscribe to or available for rent at a fair price, I’d recommend watching it. But I wouldn’t put it at the top of your list.
Ratings (out of five stars):
Overall * *
Add Flinch to your watch list, but slot it somewhere near the middle.