A few years ago David Cameron recommended that we hug a hoodie. In The Liability a hoodie isn’t so much embraced, as taken on a road trip with a hired killer. Perhaps not exactly what the Prime Minister had in mind. Luckily, the result is very enjoyable.
With all their cockney bluster, British crime movies have a somewhat dubious reputation in some quarters, but The Liability makes a pleasant change from the usual Brit Crime palaver. For starters, this film makes a foray into that less familiar crime sub-genre (at least in the UK), the hitman movie. By the solitary nature of their profession assassins tend to be more introspective, not to mention a bit odder, than your average geezer and thus a bit more interesting.
The Liability follows 19-year-old Adam (Jack O’Connell) who lives with his mother and step-father in their mansion in Northumberland. He is the epitome of a feckless, iPhone addicted youth. His step-father is played by Peter Mullan and it will come as no surprise that he is not a big softie, but a gangster and a nutter to boot. Few actors at the moment do menace or the threat of violence like Mullan, and here he is petrifying. Surely he’ll be dragged off to Hollywood soon?
After Adam crashes his step-dad’s expensive Merc, he is given a job doing the one thing you would not expect someone with such poor car handling skills to land: a chauffeur. The man he has to drive is Roy, a world weary hitman with a tinder dry sense of humour played by Tim Roth. Adam, on the other hand, spends most of his time playing his x-box and skulking around in his hoodie. He doesn’t always seem the fastest console on the market, but he innocent enough to be endearing. Together they make a very amusing and likeable odd couple cum surrogate father-son pairing.
Chauffeuring a hitman is never without its complications (just look at Jamie Foxx in Collateral) and things get even more complex when they have to avoid a serial killer terrorising the region and a beautiful Lithuanian in the form of Talulah Riley appears to mix things up a bit too. All the while an exasperated Roy does his best to handle eager Adam. It doesn’t take long to realise who the liability is.
Their relationship is well drawn and amusing too. The smallest of exchanges can reveal the gulf between the two characters: Roy gives the youngster half his sandwich who whines “it’s mouldy” to which the older man snaps, “it’s cheese”. Later, when Roy is about to do some horrible hacking, Adam wants to get involved with a “Gis a go”.
Another of the pleasures of the film is that it is set in Northumbria, a part of the world that has not featured as a location for too many movies despite its dramatic landscapes. But unlike Sightseers which recently made the most of epic Northern vistas, much of the action takes place at night or in more industrial backdrops. There is one scene in particular that takes place in a Victorian pumphouse with awe-inspiring iron beams and pistons pumping away. The director Craig Vivieros has given his film quite a slick look, and he says he was influenced by the paintings of Richard Estes and John Baeder, as well as Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
Some see the influence of Quentin Tarantino, but the Coen brothers might be a bit more accurate. Early in his career Tim Roth acted alongside John Hurt playing an ageing hitman in The Hit (1984) a film which might lurk in the shadows of this one, but The Liability screen writer John Wrathall quotes Cohen and Tate (1988), another 80s odd couple–hitman-road movie, as an influence. Whatever the influences, the film is stylish and funny, not to mention violent and even sexy in parts. Any film with Tim Roth in is probably worth a look and his character in this one is compelling. There is more to it than just him though, go and have a look.