If you’re feeling a bit jaded with the constant stream of Hollywood product filling the Blu-ray shelves, then maybe now is a good time to take a look at a small British independent production that seemed to be advertised in a whisper upon its cinema release. ‘Wild Target’ is a very recent remake of a French film ‘Cible emouvante’ about a professional Hit-man who calmly despatches his victims with great efficiency until one day he falls for a female target and decides to let her live. He then has to protect her from the unwanted attention of another Hit-man out to complete the task.
Now, this all sounds very heavy stuff until you know that the first Hit-man, Victor Meynard, is played by none other than Bill Nighy (who’s rapidly heading for national treasure status) his pretty target, Rose, by Emily Blunt and the assassin out to get them by Martin Freeman. So there we have three good reasons to want to see the film, but the list continues with Rupert Everett, Eileen Atkins, Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley himself) and Gregor Fisher (sans Rab C.Nesbitt string vest and head bandage).
Now you know that it just has to be a comedy.
It begins with Rose (Ms Blunt) working a con, whereby she swaps a forgery for an original work of art at the crucial stage of a sale to a rich Mr Ferguson (Rupert Everett) for the substantial sum of £800,000. When the switch is discovered, Victor (Mr Nighy) is hired to bump her off. Now, you can’t really blame Victor for falling for Rose as she is a young, free spirit with legs all the way up to her armpits - who appears in one eye catching outfit after another.
Victor is scolded by his mother (Eileen Atkins) for letting down their good family name as she was once a top flight assassin herself and his father apparently was a legend. For me, one of the best revelations in the movie was when we hear that, for his seventh birthday, young Victor was given a Beretta – “the Prince among handguns.”
The comedy is played straight with Bill Nighy giving one of his more restrained performances, but the twitches are still there. This is a movie that doesn’t release the steam valve as one big belly laugh and then that’s it, alternatively it contents itself in keeping a smile on the lips of the audience all the way through with the occasional further upturning of the corners of the mouth.
The humour is extracted from ridiculous coincidences such as when Ferguson, after hearing of Victor’s failure to kill Rose, entrusts his two bumbling henchmen (Barney & Mike) with the job. In a car park, Victor spots Barney about to kill Rose so he shoots him. Just as all seems safe the shorter, chubbier goon Mike (Gregor Fisher) gets the drop on them. As he’s about to pull the trigger, he too is shot (though not fatally) by car washer Tony (Rupert Grint) with Barney’s gun – just because it seemed the right thing to do.
You might think that this is fairly dark comedy and we do occasionally see some blood, but it’s all handled with a light touch by director Jonathan Lynn (‘My Cousin Vinny’, ‘The Whole Nine Yards’) while the script by Lucinda Coxon skates carefully on the tasteful side of the macabre.
Victor is so impressed by Tony’s first shot with a gun that he takes him on as his apprentice and the adopted Father/Son roles develop. The love story between Rose and Victor is handled gently too as, with the age difference between the two, it could have appeared somewhat unseemly.
Martin Freeman is excellent as Hector Dixon, the other top Hit-man hired to kill Victor and Rose. The camera focuses on his whitened, perfect teeth – no doubt a reflection on where an assassin might choose to spend his ill gotten gains.
Eileen Atkins, as the mother, doesn’t really have a role that makes great use of her acting talents but there is one memorable scene where Victor goes to visit her and makes her a present of a talking parrot. On a later visit, in the corner of the shot we notice the parrot impaled on a knitting needle.
Emily Blunt makes a lovely Rose - fresh and airy - and she manages to hold her own in the acting stakes up against the mighty Nighy. She also comes across as quite sexy, although not in the usual movie star way.
All through the film, I had a real dread of something spoiling the fun which ultimately failed to materialise. It all centres around relationships and we fear that, perhaps, Victor may turn out to be a ‘dirty old man’ or ‘aging gay lover’ but we’re in capable directorial hands. Thankfully the script does not rely on people saying ‘funny things’ as in a TV sitcom, it’s a lot more subtle than that. I’m trying hard not to call this is a gem of a picture as that’s a much misused and overused phrase these days. It’s just a pity that it didn’t grab a bigger audience on its cinema run. It only took around half a million quid on its first week in UK theatres, against a budget of $8 million.
The reason for this is most likely that it isn’t of the blockbuster variety and I can understand it not appealing to audiences who want explosions every minute.
It’s more of a whimsical piece and, while there are shootouts, the cleverness is in the script. What we have here is a film with an unusual freshness and the UK locations make a pleasant change to downtown L.A. or New York. The British cast have what it takes to deliver the goods here, but without a Hollywood ‘A-list’ name to put bums on seats their efforts were never really destined to reach a wider audience.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Wild Target’ and hope many others will take the opportunity to view it at home on Region B locked Blu-ray, which allows us to see it in a quality as good as, if not better than, the nearest multiplex.
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