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Overall Rating

Awesome: 27.27%
Worth A Look31.82%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap31.82%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Kill List
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by Jay Seaver

"A killer new take on the everyman assassin movie."
4 stars

Movies like "Kill List" are relatively rare; while there are few individual things in the movie that someone buying a ticket for such a movie hasn't seen before, the combination of ingredients is unusual. And not just in what's combined, the way they are put together is sometimes even more peculiar. Considering how frequently rote the hitman drama genre can be, different is a very good thing.

The assassin in question is Jay (Neil Maskell), who still feels like he needs to recover mentally and physically from a botched job in Kiev eight months ago. This extended "recovery" - which includes a fair amount of drinking and pills - is putting a tremendous strain on his marriage to Shel (MyAnna Buring), leading to some ugly fights in front of their son Sam (Harry Simpson). So maybe, when Jay's partner Gal (Michael Smiley) and his new girlfriend Fiona (Emma Fryer) come for a dinner party, it's time to get back out there. So they meet a new client, who gives them a list of three people - but there's something very strange going on from the start.

Kill List is the new movie by Ben Wheatley, last seen on the festival circuit with Down Terrace, and it's immediately clear that it shares a lot of DNA with that movie. Both sit squarely in the Venn Diagram intersection between "crime" and "yelling family" movies, with what seems like a decided slant toward the latter at first. And as a portrait of a volatile marriage and family, it's pretty fantastic. Wheately and company spend the first third of the picture making it very difficult to form a simple opinion on Jay's and Shel's relationship, switching between caustic screaming matches and quiet moments of support in such a way as to keep the audience from getting too comfortable. The eruptions and deflations happen fast, but this seems perfectly keeping with who these two are, both in general and at this specific point.

That's so tumultuous and emotionally nerve-wracking that going off to kill people for money seems like a bit of a respite, although the filmmakers are soon cranking the mystery and discomfort up there, too. The focus here is on Jay and Gal; their relationship is less stressful than that between Jay and Shel, but there's just enough friction there to get across that Jay's marriage is not the only thing exerting pressure on him. Mostly, though, it's about the plot coming to the fore, and the tone is handled very well - Jay and Gal are not presented as heroes, villains, or coolly straddling the line.

Neil Maskell is, naturally, a big part of why both those parts work. In the span of a few minutes - and occasionally in the same scene - he'll give us Jay as a devoted softie of a dad and a fountain of rage that threatens to destroy everything around him, and he manages it in a way that never implies that there's two Jays, but one man whose strong emotions are potentially both strength and undoing (it's impressive to see how these bits of contrary nature later combine into something cooler and scarier). MyAnna Buring and Michael Smiley each impress as different kind of partners: Smiley's Gal is Jay's opposite, temperamentally, able to become calmer when Jay is threatening to lose it, and Smiley draws the right combination of middle-aged experience and the casual cool of the as-yet-unattached. Shel, meanwhile, is too much like Jay; what sets one off will also anger the other, leading them to feed on each other's fury. Buring is actually pretty great as the lioness of the picture, more practical than her male counterparts in the way movie mothers often are but fierce in ways that have nothing to do with maternal instinct.

Everything is just fantastic until the end, which quite honestly is also impressive: It's clever and creative, quite surprising for those who have managed to avoid reading about it while still being what the first two acts have undeniably been building toward. Still, I found it a little frustrating in a couple of ways. One of them is quite possibly all on me, in that I suspect that an English audience is less likely to need the explanation this American wants. The same issue is true in miniature, as well; there's a "gotcha!" moment that I'm not sure is better motivated than "this would make a great gotcha! moment".

I suspect others are going to have different, much larger issues with the finale. I think that even they will admire the ambition Wheatley and his collaborators show, though - this is a genre movie that expects a lot of its audience but gives an equal amount back.

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originally posted: 03/09/12 10:59:37
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/14/15 Langano Keeps you on edge throughout with a clever payoff. 3 stars
2/21/15 James Had potential but flopped horribly. What the hell was that? 2 stars
6/11/13 jj absolute trash, tried to shock me but failed 1 stars
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  DVD: 14-Aug-2012


  DVD: 14-Aug-2012

Directed by
  Ben Wheatley

Written by
  Ben Wheatley
  Amy Jump

  Neil Maskell
  Michael Smiley
  MyAnna Buring

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