I’ve fortunately never met any professional hitmen, but I doubt that the experience leads to the sort of mordant humor attempted in Tom Edmunds’ feature debut. This British effort about a suicidal young man who employs a hired killer to do him in has some clever moments. But it feels overly reminiscent of too many similarly themed dark comedies, including the gold standard of the odd genre, Grosse Pointe Blank. It’s only Tom Wilkinson’s typically expert performance that saves Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) from having to live up to its subtitled bargain with moviegoers.
When failed author and unemployed lifeguard William (Aneurin Barnard, Dunkirk) decides to end it all, he proves not up to the task. Enter Leslie (Tom Wilkinson), an aging killer who’s happy to help, especially since he’s fallen way behind on his quota in the British Guild of Assassins. Upon witnessing one of William’s hapless failed attempts, he introduces himself and proffers his business card, which naturally reads “Assassin.”
Clever up to a point.
Upon their first meeting, Williams expresses doubt about Leslie. “You’re not what I imagined,” he tells the seemingly unthreatening older man. “Meet many assassins, do you?” Leslie archly replies.
The film milks its high concept for a considerable amount of wit. The humor mostly revolves around the mundane business aspects attendant to the life and death stakes. “If you’re not dead within a week, you get your money back,” Leslie assures his doubtful customer. But William is not quite convinced and asks for references. “Word of mouth is limited,” Leslie points out reasonably. When Leslie shows his new customer a brochure helpfully depicting the various lethal modes from which to choose, William has one request: “No garroting.”
Similarly amusing are the scenes depicting Leslie’s interactions with his loving, supportive wife (Marion Bailey, priceless) who nags him about retiring, and his tense encounters with his boss (Christopher Eccleston, clearly enjoying himself) who keeps reminding Leslie that he’s falling behind to the Eastern European killer who’s currently head of the pack.
But the film begins to bog down when Williams has second thoughts about his decision after meeting a beautiful young editor (Freya Mavor) who shows interest in both him and his book. He attempts to cancel the contract, with predictable wacky complications ensuing.
Writer/director Edmunds isn’t fully successful in handling the storyline’s tonal shifts. During the course of Leslie’s failed attempts to kill William, for example, numerous innocent bystanders are killed by mistake, which makes the laughter begin to curdle. And such moments as when the action halts for a lengthy discussion about Michael J. Fox’s film oeuvre feel like a blatant imitation of similar digressions in Quentin Tarantino films.
That the film works to the extent it does is mostly due to Wilkinson’s deadpan comic turn. The actor plays things totally straight, never seeming to be leaning into the humor, which only makes his harried character all the more amusing. Although Leslie proves quite ruthless and skilled at his evil profession, the veteran actor manages to make him somehow lovable.
Production: Guild of Assassins, Rather Good Films
Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Aneurin Barnard, Feya Mavor, Marion Bailey, Christopher Eccleston
Director/screenwriter: Tom Edmunds
Producers: Aneil-Konrad Cooper, Nick Clark Windo
Executive producers: Gina Carter, Stephen Fry, Orion Lee, Any Mayson, Mike Runagall
Director of photography: Luke Bryant
Production designer: Noam Piper
Editor: Tariq Anwar
Composers: Guy Garvey, Peter Jobson, Paul Saunderson
Costume designer: Natalie Humphries|
Casting: Toby Whale