Ever notice in crime films the fuck-up employee is always offered an opportunity to get back in good if he performs a task similar to the job he fucked up? Like in this movie The Liability, this kid Adam (Jack O’Connell) crashes his gangster stepdad’s (Peter Mullan) Mercedes because he’s driving like a jackass. As punishment, his stepdad hires Adam to be a driver for a no-nonsese hitman. That’s the last job I would hook my kid up with if he was an irresponsible driver.
It turns out to be more complicated than that in British director Craig Viveiros’ coming-of-age thriller. Adam, an unmotivated young man on the brink of adulthood, lives with his mom and raging gangster stepdad. After he crashes the Benz he’s forced to drive for Roy (Tim Roth), a somber hitman uninterested in whatever Adam has to say. On the very first gig things go haywire. If you’re gonna execute someone in the woods, there’s an infinite number of things that can go wrong. Adam and Roy’s “wrong” manifests in the shape of a sexy hiker (Talulah Riley).
As they scramble to track down the hiker, Adam and Roy go through a series of escalating misadventures and crimes. There’s nothing particularly gripping and I was never actually worried about their lives, but the actors are fantastic enough to keep you watching. Jack O’Connell (Skins, This Is England) is really fun to watch as he balances annoying douchebag and naive teen nicely. There’s a lot of heart in his performance and when things turn sour again for Adam near the end, you actually feel bad for him. He plays off of Tim Roth’s deadpan well and thankfully never goes exasperatingly over-the-top with his teenage cheekiness.
Roth’s only been in a couple of movies since the great Lie to Me ended in 2011, which stinks because I liked him and that show a lot. I think he’s one of the most understated actors in the business. That’s why in Lie to Me he spent most of his time slouched in a chair, staring at motherfuckers while they sweated. The character of Roy is kinda like that – real observant and practical. When we first meet him he’s kind of a dick to Adam, but then you realize he’s planning on retiring so he doesn’t want his last gigs screwed up by some doofus. He eventually lightens up to him and even gets kinda enthusiastic about teaching him the ropes.
Roy isn’t the first hitman Roth’s played in a road movie thriller. In Stephen Frears’ tightly-wound crime classic The Hit (1984) Roth played the brash, bleach-blonded Myron – a career murderer as far in spirit from the solemn Roy as you can imagine. Compare these two roles as proof of Roth’s boss ass talent. But what I didn’t like about his character in The Liability is that they give him all these annoying quirks screenwriters feel like they have to give criminals to make them interesting. Roy listens to the same cassette of Cuban music on the way to a hit while smoking on a cigar. It’s his ceremony. He carries around a little briefcase with the cassette and cigar in it and everything. It’s a cheap gimmick and not even unique – Nic Cage ritualistically listened to “Low Rider” in Gone in 60 Seconds. He’s a hitman, for chrissakes, isn’t that interesting enough?
Like I said, it’s the exceptional cast that really elevates The Liability above forgettable DTV time wasters. There’s also some fantastic photography and the climax is genuinely tense. It’s hitting DVD on January 29th from Lionsgate. The disc features a 30 minute making-of feature and some trailers. It’s definitely worth a shot if you’re looking for something light with great performances.- Patrick Cooper