John J. (Robert Duvall) is a quirky hit man who lives with Maggie (Kathy Baker) and her ten-year-old daughter Jenny (Katherine Micheaux Miller). He adores the little girl and describes her as "my soul, my eyes, my life, my everything." He takes her to a dance hall run by Frankie (Frank Gio), who gives him his assignments. John J. enjoys dancing but is totally consumed with his work, which he performs with skill and efficiency.
His next hit is a target in Argentina and for a moment, John J. considers turning it down because the three-day trip will just bring him back in the nick of time for Jenny's birthday. Maggie, who doesn't know what he really does, expresses her apprehensions about his mysterious trips and wonders if he might have a double life. John J. tries to reassure her that everything will be okay even though he's taken aback at the deftness of her intuitive faculties.
In Buenos Aires, he meets two local contacts, Miguel (Ruben Blades) and Orlando (Julio Oscar Mechoso), who fill him in on the details of the assignment the assassination of a cruel right wing general who killed many people during the country's recent political turmoil. So far this murderer has escaped punishment. John J. remains unmoved by the political background of the target. However, when the general goes to the hospital and he's forced to stay for three weeks instead of three days, John J. calls Frankie and complains vociferously about the delay.
Now with plenty of time to spare, he is drawn into a dance hall where he sees Manuela (Luciana Pedraza) dancing the tango. John J. is mesmerized by her grace and beauty. There is something about the sensuous movements of this dance that enthralls him and takes him out of his troubles to a place of joy. She accepts his request to teach him the tango and while drinking coffee in a shop they flirt with each other. John J. meets her younger sister and several seasoned tango dancers who claim that the women were dancing in the womb. Although he wants to take his study of the tango further, the deadline for his job looms large and sensing danger, John J. decides to change his plans for the hit.
Assassination Tango is written and directed by Robert Duvall (The Apostle) who plays a shady character who nonetheless has many admirable qualities, including his deep love for his step-daughter and his enchantment with the tango as a vehicle for the expression of his soul. The dance sequences along with the music are beautifully done. Similar to Sally Potter's The Tango Lesson, this drama vividly conveys the director's passion for this art form. Fans of Robert Duvall will marvel at his ability to capture the many moods and eccentricities of John J., a man who is opened to some new possibilities when faced with his own vulnerability.