The Liability review

Viveiros’ lo-fi British gangster offering is wearily clichéd and predictable, but just about made bearable by the buddy movie shtick of Jack O’Connell and Tim Roth.

After 20-year-old Adam (O’Connell) writes-off his psychotic step-dad’s sports car, he’s swiftly ordered to work off the debt by driving Roth’s Roy around in a clapped-out Ford. Roy is a retiring hitman out for one last job, but precisely where and who this is remains a mystery, with Adam merely ordered to drive up the A1. This journey proves the film’s highlight, taking in several eerily beautiful vistas as the two men banter at whim.

The comic tone is established in the early exchanges when Roth (in proper Reservoir Dogs poise) wryly informs Adam that he simply “fits kitchens” but nonetheless objects to the use of his name. “What do I shout then, if you’re about to be hit by a car or something?” Adam asks. “Oi,” Roy replies, deadpan. O’Connell is best known for playing Cook in Skins’ second generation, and if you’ve seen that series you’ve effectively seen this performance. The archetypal cheeky chappy with dark undertones, the role does not suggest O’Connell has great range, but he provides fine comic foil for Roth’s straight man in scenes like these.

The quality of their early interplay isn’t sustained throughout, alas, and even Roth’s detached cool can’t salvage a mainly weak script. What’s more, for somebody pitched as the consummate professional, Roy makes some strangely ill-disciplined decisions. He trusts Adam to perform actions for which he is blatantly unqualified and unprepared – and such absurdities ape the plot’s wider inability to ring true.  The balancing of tone is also incongruous: one minute we’re laughing at Adam’s japes, the next we’re reviewing unflinching images of sex trafficking.

If there’s fun to be had in the central stock characters, moreover, the rest of the cast are merely irritating clichés. The most blatant is the Eastern European femme-fatale: smouldering behind shades as she takes graceful puffs on a cigarette, in-between dispensing violence and registering inexplicable attraction to Adam. The most disappointing performance though is by Peter Mullan, a normally peerless actor, who jettisons his sinister brilliance in the likes of Tyrannosaur in favour of cackling malevolence as a kingpin here.

Despite being relatively short by modern standards, the film drags and the ending proves an unsurprisingly ridiculous relief. With more focus on the central relationship, a better script, and a nuanced handling of tone, the film could have been a contender in the British gangster canon. Sadly, it’s just a liability.

The Liability at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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