Lots of Dead Bodies, But -- Surprise -- No Blood and Gore in 'Wild Target'

Director Jonathan Lynn says he wanted to avoid that 'cliche' in his new crime comedy.

Movies about hit men typically go through a few buckets of prop blood what with all those dead bodies onscreen.

That's not the case, however, with Jonathan Lynn's new crime comedy Wild Target, starring Bill Nighy as a professional killer whose family's been doing hits for generations, and Emily Blunt as the object of his attention, first, and affection, thereafter.

It's the "thereafter" part that poses life-threatening complications for them both as well as for Rupert Grint, playing Nighy's naive but eager apprentice.

After enjoying an early look at Wild, which expands from its current New York and L.A. playdates Friday and goes wider Nov. 26 via Freestyle Releasing, I was happy to catch up with Lynn, whose many credits include My Cousin Vinny and The Whole Nine Yards.

"Although it's absolutely full of people getting killed, you never see anyone getting killed," he told me, adding that even in one key murder scene, "you only see a body."

Why no blood and gore?

"I was determined to avoid that. I don't think it's necessary. I think that's become a real cliche. It was all very exciting when Sam Peckinpah started doing that in the '70s, but prior to that there were many good thrillers where you didn't see any blood."

Like Psycho where Hitchcock famously created the illusion of Janet Leigh being stabbed in the shower without actually showing that knife in action.

"I think it's possible to have suspense and excitement without throwing blood all around the set," Lynn observed.

Wild's roots are in a 1993 French film called Cible Emouvante, written and directed by Pierre Salvadori.

"It's a lovely movie, but in my view it didn't wholly work. But it had lovely performances and some terribly funny things in it and I enjoyed it immensely."

That was about 10 years ago, he said, "when a company based in Hollywood owned the rights and sent it to me. I didn't like their adaptation and nothing came of that."

Six years later, Lynn was contacted by Martin Pope, who wound up producing Wild with Michael Rose.

"He had bought the rights when they'd lapsed. He'd been trying to make the film apparently ever since he saw it."

Although Lynn liked the material, he thought it needed work.

"I'd become very wary about getting into things unless I think they're going to turn out right."

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In talking to Pope, he found they had similar script notes, so they went forward together. The right casting was essential because hit men and thieves usually aren't likable characters.

"I'd heard that Bill Nighy was interested, and I think he's a great actor. And that made it very exciting to me, so I got involved."

That was about three and a half years ago. At that point, they wanted Helena Bonham Carter to play the thief and she wanted to do it.

Saying she "would have been terrific in the part," Lynn recalled how Bonham Carter "was on board until four weeks before we started shooting and then it appeared there was going to be a clash between 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Wild Target' and she -- understandably, I think -- chose 'Alice' for personal reasons." Well, of course, "Alice" director Tim Burton is her significant other.

"At that moment, we were very lucky that Emily Blunt was available and read it and liked it. I think she's great. And Rupert Grint -- well, you know, if you're trying to think of a naive lovable attractive innocent, who better?"

As for the gangster who hires the hit man, that role was perfect for Rupert Everett, with whom Lynn had "been talking about another project, which hasn't happened yet."

Everett worked, explains Lynn, because "I didn't want the gangster to be the usual Cockney heavy. I didn't want it to be Bob Hoskins or Ray Winstone, wonderful though they are. I wanted an elegant cultured gangster, who would be the kind of man who would want to steal a Rembrandt."

Lynn's biggest problem making the film was that it's about a professional killer and a thief.

"They're the two main characters and we want the audience to like them and to root for them. And they do. But in a way it's down to the great likability of the performances. They give such warm likable performances that even when they're enraged with each other the audience still loves them."

The likability issue would almost certainly have been a deal breaker for a studio trying to develop the same material. The temptation would have been there to at least turn the thief into something more likable.

"Well, you know, this film was owned by a Hollywood studio for years and it didn't happen. What drew me to this was that it's not formulaic. I think the audience is genuinely surprised by all the turns of events. I think they genuinely don't know who's going to survive and who isn't."

On the other hand, Lynn laughs, "I find most scripts I read from Hollywood studios, when I get to page 20 I can more or less predict everything that's going to happen and to me that's just boring."

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com.

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