the-liabilityIt seems cameraman-cum-director Craig Viveiros fancies himself as a bit of a ‘British Tarantino’ with his second feature, The Liability. He even employs the services of one of Pulp Fiction and Resevoir Dogs’ actors, Tim Roth, to evoke that clever magic. Indeed, at the heart of this road movie is a more superior, darkly comedic thriller itching to unfold. Thankfully, due to the central and intriguing father/son relationship between ageing hit man Roy (Roth) and his haphazard apprentice Adam (Jack O’Connell), this commendable attempt at deadly humour does not fall short, even though there are other, more daring possibilities Viveiros could have explored to make his film feel less déjà vu in plot.

After trashing his step-father Peter’s car, 19-year-old Adam is forced to pay off the damage by the sinister, violent gangster (Peter Mullan) by driving a mysterious associate of his called Roy across country in an ageing Ford Granada. Something that should be simple enough to accomplish gets highly curious Adam deeper into murky waters with Roy, until the older man’s grizzly line of work is revealed. Short of silencing the teenager, Adam is fascinated by Roy’s profession and becomes his eager but accident-prone apprentice or ‘liability’. After Adam’s initiation job goes horribly wrong, the pair are left to clear up the bloody pieces, leading the lad further into a nightmarish world of murder, sex trafficking and revenge.

Viveiros wants us to laugh then grimace at events simultaneously, so much so that he has no qualms about using shock tactics right near the start to set the scene and give an insight into Peter’s disturbed mind. Mullan is as callously deviant as ever in this part but is also notably absent from most of the film. Hence, this snippet of Peter’s foul depths is necessary to tie up the finale, even though its origins are never further explored beyond surface value: The focus is quickly switched to Roy and Adam and their journey ahead.

the-liability-pix1Here, the filmmakers create a compelling and ever-present danger to the Roy-Adam relationship that’s like witnessing an older mammal toying with a younger one, ready to extinguish its life, unless it becomes more interesting and useful. O’Connell is quite hilarious as the annoying Adam who picks away at Roy’s resolve with endless childlike questions, yearning for the father figure he can aspire to in some tragic, desperate fashion. Roth as Roy commands their next moves entirely as we hang on his every stony-faced reaction and subsequent word to determine where things will go next. In this respect, it’s nothing new for this genre, but it allows Roth to deliciously tap into his Tarantino past to deliver thrills from the most mundane of everyday observations.

The Roy/Adam cat-and-mouse dynamic gives the film its human element and black soul, so it’s only natural that things feel a little off kilter when Adam gets kidnapped by a savvy and tough Eastern European girl (Talulah Riley) looking for her lost sister, with Adam ending up under lock and chain in a Freddy Krueger-style iron basement. Viveiros veers off track here – presumably, so that he can tick the body beautiful box and inject some sexuality, using a buffed O’Connell. Wisely, he returns the balance and the sardonic side reappears for the big-hearted reveal that bonds the unlikely pair further. In this sense, the film points more to a chalk-and-cheese character study under the bleakest of circumstances rather than a potentially darkly comedic thriller. Whatever, it still feels a little safe following along the same tropes.

If nothing else, The Liability offers some well-rounded performances from Roth, O’Connell and Mullan, amidst a kooky but believable premise, suggesting Viveiros’s enthusiasm for the genre and its black comedic tendencies, along a Tarantino vein. Sadly, it offers nothing beyond the usual markers of such a coming-of-age film and ends up feeling highly clichéd and conventional at the end, lacking in that spark of innovation.