The Liability: Turin Film Festival Review
Craig Viveiros' dark comedy thriller stars Tim Roth as a cold-blooded assassin burdened with an inept young assistant on his swansong murder mission.
With its bungling hit men, colorful mobsters, macabre serial killers and vengeful femme fatales, there is something slightly too by-the-numbers about this low-budget British comedy thriller, the third feature from former camera operator and cinematographer Craig Viveiros. Take a pinch of Sexy Beast, add a dash of In Bruges and the obligatory dollop of Quentin Tarantino – and yet, inevitably, the resulting mash-up is neither as funny nor as original as any of its key ingredients.
A competent addition to a crowded genre, The Liability opens theatrically in Britain next month following its premiere at the Turin Film Festival last week. This familiarity could serve as both setback and selling point in non-UK markets, though the evergreen appeal of comic-book carnage and the reliably magnetic presence of Tim Roth should at least guarantee a modest readymade following.
Rising young Brit Jack O’Connell plays the liability of the title, 19-year-old Adam, whose mother Nicky (Kierston Wareing) is in a relationship with an intimidating crime boss Peter (Peter Mullan). An amiable but emotionally immature and comically accident-prone slacker, Adam is an obvious irritant to Peter, who nevertheless tries to help nudge him towards adult responsibility by offering him a job driving a business associate on a mysterious job.
The colleague turns out to be Roy (Roth), a laconic hit man methodically polishing off his last ever killing spree on the eve of his daughter’s wedding. Roth brings a lot of cinematic baggage to his menacingly calm and breezy characterization - not just his obvious Tarantino associations but echoes of more youthful work like the Stephen Frears-directed 1984 crime thriller The Hit, which also featured a cool-headed professional assassin and his volatile young assistant. Indeed, there may even be an in-joke allusion to this earlier film in one of Roy’s most darkly funny lines: “I haven’t killed a woman since 1983.”
Though the location is never specified, The Liability was mostly shot around Northumbria in the northeast of England. Rarely seen on the big screen, this ruggedly beautiful coastal county mostly looks disappointingly drab and overcast here. Viveiros and his team are clearly less interested in landscape than in the comic chemistry between goofy, garrulous Adam and the taciturn, guarded Roy. Forced into a reluctant mentor role, the veteran killer ends up schooling his young apprentice in the methods of sanitizing crime scenes and slicing up corpses. A cheerfully amoral student, Adam even implores Roy to let him help dismember a body, reasoning “it could be the only chance I ever get.”
Inevitably, Adam and Roy are knocked of course by unexpected events in the shape of a lethal Latvian beauty (Talulah Riley), who introduces a murky back story of trafficking and treachery. At this point the film lurches from dark comedy to chase thriller, not entirely successfully. A nocturnal cat-and-mouse pursuit around rural Northumbria feels far too laidback, with the police oddly absent despite a string of car thefts and stick-ups. The explosively violent final showdown also strains logic, and leaves too many loose ends hanging. Though effortless fun while it lasts, The Liability never quite achieves lift-off from its over-familiar formula.
Venue: Turin Film Festival screening
Production companies: Corona Pictures, Starchild Pictures
Producers: Richard Johns, Rupert Jermyn
Cast: Tim Roth, Jack O’Connell, Talulah Riley, Peter Mullen, Kierston Wareing
Director: Craig Viveiros
Writer: John Wrathall
Cinematographer: James Friend
Editor: Pia Di Ciaula
Music: Vicky Wijeratne
Sales company: AV Pictures
Rated R, 92 minutes.