The Liability is a new film directed by Craig Viveiros (Ghosted) and starring Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction). The film follows the story of Adam (Jack O’Connell), a young driver forced to accompany veteran assassin Roy (Roth) on a hit when he totals a car belonging to his stepfather (Peter Mullan). Little does he know that there is more to the job than his stepfather is letting on, and he soon finds himself part of a vicious game of cat-and-mouse. A British action film laced with black comedy, The Liability runs to 82 minutes and will be a 15 certificate.
The Liability is a nice little film that almost succeeds in distracting the viewer from its tiny cast and presumably low budget. Something about the way the film comes together – the great acting, the familiar but compelling storyline, the capable production – is engaging and real enough that, in the first half (or even the first three-quarters) you are entirely caught up in the progression of the film. However, I think lazy writing in the script’s conclusion forces the film into a highly conventional ending that it can’t support.
Tim Roth gives an excellent performance as on-the-verge-of-retiring hitman Roy; the character is wonderfully written and portrayed, and suggests a depth that the film, alluringly, does not entirely plumb. Likewise, Jack O’Connell gives a very real take on Adam, a rough-around-the-edges youth who is not immediately likeable, but grows on you in a way that brings the plot to life. The dynamic between the two is probably the most compelling element of this film, and really makes it into something worth seeing.
Although Talulah Riley does a good job of portraying ‘girl’, I felt that playing the part must have been a bit of an uphill struggle; her character just doesn’t seem particularly well-defined by the script. Her story appears to be harrowing, but is never really explored – and without any sense of pathos, she becomes just a handy contrivance for the progression of a plotline that doesn’t seem to have much time for her. Likewise, the film seems to have no interest in explaining Peter Mullan’s character, or his relationship. Ultimately, he seems to go a little bit haywire at the end and is a stodgy and inconsistent character throughout.
The last 15 minutes or so of the film starkly reveal its limitations. There is a point not long from the end – no spoilers, but you’ll know it when you see it – where the film could have simply been cut, producing a graceful, intriguing, not-quite-cliffhanger ending. Instead, writer John Wrathall and Viveiros decide to go out with guns blazing in an ending that does three things: first, it reveals the inconsistency of Mullan’s character. Second, it unhinges the continuity of Riley’s character. Finally, it reveals that the film could not support a big shoot-out scene. It doesn’t look good, and it does not drive the plot to anywhere more interesting than where it already was.
To sum up
The Liability is a good film that suffers because it didn’t know when to stop. The dynamic between Roth and O’Connell, and both of their performances, are excellent – and between them they bring the vast majority of this script to darkly comic, intensely watchable life. It is worth watching the whole film just for this interaction. That aside, the plotline provides a couple of diverting twists and turns – but largely, I feel The Liability falls slightly short of very great potential. Screenwriters should beware: over-extending the script can be a liability.
The Liability is released in UK cinemas on 17 May 2013.