Title: The Liability
Director: Craig Viveiros
Major Players: Tim Roth, Jack O’Connell, Peter Mullan
Out of five? 3
Hitmen never really go out of fashion when it comes to the movies. Last year, we had Brad Pitt’s ruthlessly efficient assassin in Andrew Dominik’s Killing Them Softly and next month sees the release of The Iceman, based on the true story of Richard Kuklinski. But, before that, comes the lower-budget, British offering, The Liability.
When car-mad Adam (Jack O’Connell) crashes the flashy sports car belonging to his mum’s boyfriend, Peter (Peter Mullan), he needs a way to pay off the debt. Peter finds him work as a driver for the taciturn Roy (Tim Roth) and the job involves a trip to the North East, which turns out to be something of an eye-opener for the teenager.
As soon as you see his car, you know that Roth’s hitman is miles away from the usual Hollywood image. His Ford Granada Ghia was top of the range in its day, but now it’s on the way out – rather like its owner. In fact, cars are a constant image throughout the film, from the boyfriend’s sports car (which you would expect to be driven by a hitman!), through the shabby Granada and finally to the sore thumb of a camper van which the hitman and his young side kick are forced to hijack. So conspicuous is it, that I kept wondering when a police car was going to appear on its tail. But it never does.
The film’s focus – and greatest success – is the relationship between Adam and Roy. The latter has all the hallmarks of having been at the top of his game, but those days are long gone: he still has the knowledge and equipment to do the job, but now he’s gloomy and morose. There is definitely nothing slick or efficient about him – instead, it’s as if the life has been drained out of him and he’s numb to pretty much everything around him. When he looks at Adam, he wears the expression of somebody regarding an alien being and, indeed, the youngster is an aggravating, cocky chav. But they share an eye for detail, so much so that you begin to ask if Adam isn’t so much of a liability as another hitman in the making.
The film’s sombre, grey mood mirrors that of Roth’s character, although it is lifted by flashes of dark humour, the best of which is when the odd couple carry out a murder dressed from head to toe in scene of crime plastic clothing. It takes the edge off the scene and, in fact, director Craig Viveiros uses humour throughout as a cover-up for the deeply nasty underlying story that drives the film. When Adam, in a moment of curiosity, discovers what looks like porn on Peter’s laptop he has, in fact, found evidence that his mother’s boyfriend is involved in sex trafficking. It’s always in the back of his mind – and ours, despite the director’s attempt to disguise it.
The brutal reality of the boyfriend’s “business” is also at odds with a large chunk of the plot, which involves the sister of one of his victims. She appears out of nowhere at a crucial time and it’s too much of a coincidence. To accept the second half of the film, in which she features heavily, you have to suspend a lot of disbelief, which doesn’t sit comfortably with the downbeat yet more realistic first part.
It’s the interplay between Adam and Roy that gives the film its momentum, with Roth and O’Connell making an excellent team. Roth’s hitman is downbeat to the point of being apathetic, yet he still find moments of pleasure in fat Cuban cigars and music from the same country. O’Connell is his perfect foil, enthusiastic to the point of being irritating and full of himself – until he has to deliver. The current go-to actor for seriously nasty villains, Peter Mullan, is yet again truly repellent and utterly believable.
At its heart, The Liability has a partnership that deserves a stronger, more convincing plot. As it stands, it’s that unlikely partnership that makes you want to stay with the movie, but the combination of the undertone of the sub-plot and the uneven storyline make this is a hitman film that’s somewhat wide of the mark.
The Liability opens in cinemas on Friday, 17 May.