The Liability, 2012.
Directed by Craig Viveiros.
Starring Tim Roth, Peter Mullan, Talulah Riley, Jack O’Connell and Kierston Wareing.
When a nineteen-year-old crashes the car of his gangster stepdad, he is forced to drive a hitman to his next job as payback.
Gangsters in real life are, inherently and on the whole, a seemingly unlikeable bunch that you wouldn’t want to meet. But on the other hand, everyone has their good and bad points. Whether it is, for example, because they’re doing bad things for a heroic end, or maybe they’ve been forced into a position with no exit. Trying to find the good in someone, or something, is what I found myself doing with The Liability.
Adam (O’Connell) smashes a car up while checking his phone, gleefully takes a photo of it and walks off without injury or lesson learnt. So we have unlikeable character number one.
Peter (Mullan) is his stepdad who warns, with the promise of violence, that Adam will pay him back, even if it takes four years of minimum wage work. Adam soon after finds videos and photos tying Adam to some form of sex trafficking and does nothing more about it than attempting to cover his own tracks. So we have unlikeable character number two, though he is the bad guy. But no more plus points for Adam.
Then we have the hitman, Roy (Roth), who Adam is forced to drive around. Talking of always paying attention to the little details but only ever enforcing his own rules to the minimum, and mercilessly murdering countless people as his job description, we have unlikeable character number three.
Now I’m not saying stories can’t have unlikeable characters. I’m saying they have to be made likeable through their portrayal. Whether that’s through showing their flaws (this works particularly well for the seemingly perfect characters, your Holmes’ and your Batmans), using humour (see In Bruges for a hilarious gangster film worth watching) or even something as simple and intangible as pure charisma or charm (I doubt Johnny Depp, for example, could create an unlikeable portrayal of a character unless he really tried).
That’s the inherent problem with The Liability. I won’t make a joke about the title, because I fear after watching this movie that I might hit a comic beat like they do. Which is like a sumo wrestler trying to tap dance. You know they’re very well able to do other things, so you have to wonder why they’re so stuck on this one idea. The Liability could have been a drama, or anything really, but instead aimed for comedy. It did so so ineffectively that characters that could’ve been made likeable just seemed nasty.
The script seems a little uninspired and, frankly, lazy. The acting is generally good enough to pass, though I think a combination of the two and the editing meant any potential comedy (found within a story with good dramatic potential) was lost. The movie forces us to connect with characters who are outright nasty or at the least ones we just don’t care about. Peter Mullan’s character, for example, wasn’t the obvious source of laughs but his job of creating a menacing force; to be feared whenever he’s on screen is done extremely well. It’s just unfortunate that the only portrayal worth writing home about is for someone who’s not a major character.
Tim Roth seems a little bored, though what he could’ve done with a character whose racism advances the plot as he assumes a woman having the same accent as a man they murder means she actually knew him isn’t very clear. O’Connell as the young man interested in the gangster game (for reasons that aren’t made clear) looks a little like a young Andy Serkis. That’s honestly the most interesting thing about him. His portrayal could’ve been likeable if his character wasn’t such an outright idiot so convinced he’s in the right. I may sound like an old man, but if that’s how your audience responds to the main character who we’re supposed to root for, things aren’t exactly going as planned.
Production values are also passable. Some little moments stood out, taking me out of the viewing experience though that’s probably because I’m an idiot who pays too much attention to the little things and uses words like ‘viewing experience’. But like Roy talking about the little details, it’s the little things that make it immersive. This ‘little details’ link also applies to the comic beats. Timing really is everything, but I just had to mention it.
Gangster films aren’t ones that lend themselves well to the iconic shot (certainly when compared to the glut of superhero movies coming out every summer) unless they’re played out as an operatic story. British gangster movies seem to ignore this option, preferring the realism and quasi-ironic humour that’s been done so much better two decades ago when Tarantino made Pulp Fiction. Therefore the movie isn’t visually inspiring, merely functional.
Overall the movie, like the characters, is unlikeable. Comic beats, and this can’t be stressed enough, are so unskillfully dealt with that you might, might get one or two laughs out of the whole thing. There’s no one character you really root for, and the only reason it doesn’t outstay its welcome is because its only eighty-odd minutes long. And the ending is certainly strange if you want to know what happened to Adam’s mum.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★ ★