Friday, 9 September 2011

kill list (d ben wheatley, w. wheatley & amy jump)

Kill List has received a fair amount of hype for a low budget brit-flick. There have been suggestions that this is the film to rescue UK cinema from its creative mediocrity. At one point, when our two heroes visit their employers looking to get out of their ill-fated contract, they ask what the job is really about. Someone tells them, that it's about "reconstruction". The word is carefully chosen, and would appear to suggest an echo of the British missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Jay and Gal were together in Iraq. Is this film a veiled political critique? What is its real agenda?

The film opens strongly. Jay is trying to adjust to life in suburbia with his wife and child. His best mate, Gal (a homage to Sexy Beast?) comes round for supper with his new girlfriend, the disarming Fiona. Wheatley's camera does a good job of capturing the dynamics of a long, boozy night. The evening is allowed to play itself out, with Jay losing his cool and then coming round, Gal comforting Jay's kid and wife and Fiona unphased by anything she sees. By the end of the night we know these characters inside out. We understand the off-beat but believable dynamics of their relationships. The film's restless editing style and floating camera keep the pace moving and lend the film a slightly documentary feel. (The scene reminded me a little of the opening to Trapero's Born and Bred.)

This doesn't feel like a film whose title is Kill List: it feels more subtle, more intricate and more ambitious. But this is the high water mark of the movie. The next stage moves towards more standard UK fare as Jay and Gal take on a new job. They're hitmen and they've been given a list of people: a priest, a librarian, an MP. The film mutates into McDonagh's In Bruges. Gal and Jay enjoy some lively repartee as they go about their violent and increasingly unhinged business. It's all a bit strange and slightly creepy, but with Jay's family out of the picture the dramatic tension diminishes. Then comes the last of the three movies within a movie. The denouement suddenly goes all Wicker Man. There's a lot of running around in tunnels. The people who've hired our heroes turn out to be leaders of a cult. Who do exactly what you'd expect from cult leaders: they make their followers wear funny art-designed straw masks and walk around in the nude in the middle of the night, as well as carrying out random executions for their and our entertainment. It's not going to end well for Jay, and whilst the filmmakers might have thought that the final reveal would be a shock, it feels about as surprising as the fact that Tony Blair turns out to be Murdoch's child's godfather.

In a way, Kill List seems to contain the good, the bad and the ugly of British cinema. Like so much of the cinema we make, it ultimately feels as though it's aspiring to cult status, rather than trying to tell a truthful story. This inevitably means that the film starts to feel like a video game, which is exactly what happens in the last 15 minutes. Somewhere along the line it seems as though someone lost their nerve. Perhaps the filmmakers, perhaps the financiers. The opening of Kill List suggests a film that might have the capacity to be genuinely unsettling. But it can't sustain this. Instead, it ends up trying too hard and resorting to too many clichés. There is considerable skill in the editing, the sound design, and the dialogue (some of which is credited to the actors themselves). It may even be that Kill List garners the cult following it so desperately seeks. But in the end it feels like it's seeking points for effort and ticking boxes. There may be a filmmaker of real vision at work there somewhere, but this isn't the film that proves his case.

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