The Tournament asks, and eventually answers, only one very simple question. “How long can a non-stop action movie keep the interest of its audience?” The answer: At least 95 minutes, because that’s how long The Tournament‘s runtime is. It’s possible that it could be longer, but that’s how long The Tournament stays on-screen, so that’s the only possible answer it can give.
The premise is a basic one. There is a tournament held every 7 years that features the world’s greatest assassins. They have a certain amount of time to kill one another, and once it begins, the last man (or woman) standing wins. If two or more are still alive by the time the clock reaches 0:00, then everyone dies. The prize is £10,000,000, with those watching and hosting the tournament betting on who will win as it progresses.
The contestants all range in size, shape and gender, which is something that works in the film’s favor. They aren’t interchangeable pieces, instead all seeming unique. This helps the audience figure out what’s happening when the action scenes begin. It takes the film from the territory of “who are all of these people?” to “hey, I recognize that person”.
The previous winner of this tournament (Ving Rhames) is returning not for money, but for revenge. In the seven-year hiatus, his wife was murdered by another one of the contestants. We don’t find out until quite late in the movie who this person is, and why he/she murdered Rhames’ character’s wife. Kelly Hu plays another one of the contestants, wanting the money so she can disappear from the rest of the world. Ian Somerhalder entered just because he likes killing people, while Craig Conway (remember Sol from Doomsday?) enters for reasons we never get to find out, because he doesn’t get more than a couple of lines of dialogue before being dispatched. Yes, this did sadden me, because Conway’s inclusion was the reason I wanted to see this movie in the first place.
The premise of “assassins must kill each other in 24 hours or else” is one that The Tournament sticks to like stains stick to clothing. The amount of downtime between action sequences rarely gets into the minutes, usually staying within the 30-45 second range. This film throws action scene after action scene at you, rarely giving you a chance to catch your breath. And they keep getting more impressive as it progresses. You’ll think that you will have seen all that the film has to offer, and then the next fight scene will change that belief. It continually tops itself, allowing the incredibly manic pace to work effectively.
There is an actual plot aside from the very basic premise that I’ve given you so far. One of the other contestants that I didn’t mention actually cuts out his tracker, puts it in a pot of coffee, and waits for someone to drink the coffee. The man who drinks said coffee is a priest (Robert Carlyle), who ends up becoming a contestant (with 500-1 odds, I’d like to add) as a result of ingesting the tracker. He teams up with Kully Hu’s character, as she decides not to kill the innocent man. So, truces begin forming and the action primarily follows these two people, only diverging from that path when other characters have a showdown.
With an action film like this, you shouldn’t expect a great amount of character depth or development. You do get a slight bit when it comes to the priest, Hu’s character and Rhames’ character, but that’s about it. Still, at least there’s an attempt to make us feel for these people, which is something that you can’t say about some similar films to this one. (The Condemned is the one I’m thinking of here).
Speaking of The Condemned, there was a message that it tried to give the audience. “Holding a tournament like this is bad”, it tried to tell us. The Tournament doesn’t go that route, which I found refreshing. It doesn’t have anything to say about the morality of hosting such a tournament, instead just wanting us to watch an all-out action film, without making the audience feel bad about enjoying it so much.
The Tournament is an unapologetic film. It will not apologize for all of the fun it will let you have while watching it, nor will it apologize for some of the insane things it will show on-screen. It’s there for the sole purpose of giving you some fun action scenes, and that’s about it. It fails in giving much depth or insight into its characters, but with a film like this, that’s hardly a large criticism. On the whole, I had a lot of fun with The Tournament, even if the actor I chose to watch it for died really early on.