With international actors like Max Von Sydow and Jean Reno and American actors like John Cusack and even Tom Cruise played contract killers in different films with different tones and settings, the character of hitman has fascinated film writers and directors alike for ages. I remember watching a rerun of The Mechanic (1972) that starred Charles Bronson in a downtown Cairo cinema and still its double twist ending fascinates me till now. (Please let’s forget it was recently remade).
Some international arthouse films have their own take on such character. It is quite a different approach that the trigger-happy of the stereotypical Hollywood’s approach we see it all the time. One of the recent arrivals in that context in the two hours plus Greek drama Strato by Cypriote born writer and director Yannis Economides who studied filmmaking in Athens and, After several short films and documentaries, he wrote and directed his first feature film, Matchbox in 2003. Economides’ second feature Soul Kicking premiered in La Semaine De La Critique in 2006 and his third, Knifer (2010) won seven awards from the Greek Film Academy, including Best Film, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
On the surface, Stratos is thrilling drama about the title character who is a part-time hitman often contracted by the mob to settle scores while working as a humble worker at a bakery workshop. The film then goes under the skin of the main protagonists and hence shows the effect of the current Greek recession on middle class people and the rising criminal making profit from the situation. We got to understand that Stratos uses all the money he gets from his contract jobs to fund an escape plan for his former boss Leonidas. In a scene where the two confronts, Strato visits Leo in jail and their dialog reveals that, at the age nineteen, Stratos committed a crime of passion and spent half his life in prison where Leonidas took him under his wing. But one day, during a rival gang attack, Leonidas saved Stratos’ life and took the fall for him. That’s why Stratos continues to kill to free him. Call it “a code” or “an honor among thieves and killers”.
Vangelis Mourikis who plays Stratos, has appeared in more than thirty films since 1982. He studied in Australia then returned to Greece in 1990s and devoted his work in independent cinema, winning five acting awards for leading and supporting roles. Mourikis knew how to play Stratos, not only because he is credited as a co-writer of the film, but also for expressive face reflecting the darkened grief and despair such character lives in. Mourikis has few dialog lines except near the end of the films when the climax between Stratos and the mob explodes. To set the feel of loneliness of Stratos, director Economides also relies on wide-angle shots by cinematographer Dimitris Katsaitisof reflecting Athens’ empty streets and Landscape Mountains accompanied by solo guitar soundtrack by Babis Papadopoulos. The Greek original title of Stratos is To mikro psar meaning little fish who is a name reflecting Stratos who is eventually and tragically will be eaten by a bigger fish one day. After premiering in Berlin Film Festival last February, Stratos continued a highly successful track record in major international festivals, winning The Grand Prize of Med Film Fest in Rome. It also achieved international sales to European distributors for upcoming releases in England, Ireland and Serbia. It is expected soon to have an agreement with a distribution company in the US. Once that is done, I predict that Stratos can be remade in the US starring major American star.