The Hit is a 1984 British crime drama featuring Tim Roth’s debut movie performance, playing a hot headed accomplice to John Hurt’s world weary hitman. Now, nearly thirty years later, Roth’s debut role is reversed in another British crime drama, as he takes on the role of Roy, a professional killer on the verge of retirement, tutoring a young tearaway named Adam (Jack O’Connell) in the finer points of murder for hire, as a favour to Adam’s stepdad (Peter Mullan).
For the most part, The Liability is a peculiar buddy movie, a quiet, darkly funny two hander about two social outcasts bonding on the road together. It’s the kind of set up that requires two equally skilled performers with tons of chemistry if it’s going to ring true or be at all effective. On this count The Liability is a winner. Roth, who has been sent largely absent from mainstream cinema of late, is reliably excellent. The natural charm that he has used to such great effect throughout his career is present, but in this instance it’s masking a vulnerability, a sad, conflicted, tired soul. It’s a subtle, winning performance and Roth makes it look effortless. The other half of the equation is Jack O’Connell, a very talented rising star, playing yet another feral, mouthy little shit, a role he pretty much owns now after his performances in the likes of Tower Block, Eden Lake and The Runaway. Fortunately O’Connell continues to find different shades within a character that could have been a one note scumbag, making Adam a likeable and relatable presence throughout. There’s a symmetry with Roth’s early, fierce performances such as Alan Clarke’s skinhead drama Made in Britain, the sort of role O’Connell would excel at.The two actors also share wonderful, odd couple chemistry, Roy’s initial irritation thawing as he slowly begins to display a parental side, and the eager, bruised Adam welcoming his fatherly interest.
The story is somehow both predictable and unusual. The ending and several major plot points are blindingly obvious from the get-go, but while the destination is always clear, the journey itself is rather peculiar and unpredictable, with a gentle, wonky surrealism bolstered by its strange, eerie indie soundtrack. It occasionally resembles Ben Wheatley’s odd take on British genre material, the general authenticity of the performances and events helping to make those stranger, surreal moments that much more effective.
The script is pretty sharp too, totally naturalistic and authentic, darkly funny, it represents both characters well, a collision of untempered enthusiasm and optimism with world weary cynicism.
There’s nothing terribly wrong with The Liability. A third act plot twist is a little jarring and moves the film away from its greatest strength, the chemistry between Roth and O’Connell. As I stated before, the ending is rather predictable, it offers no surprises at all, it’s fairly satisfying anyway, but a film that takes such a peculiar route to the finish line could at least find a more interesting way to cross it.
Overall, The Liability is a highly watchable, entertainingly odd take on an old genre staple, powered by two excellent, hugely charismatic performances. Definitely worth a watch.
The Liability is out on DVD 27th May 2013.
Director: Craig Viveiros
Writer: John Wrathall
Stars: Tim Roth, Talulah Riley, Peter Mullan
Runtime: 82 min