‘The Liability’ sees camera man Craig Viveiros take a seat in the director’s chair for the first time and he certainly wears his influences on his sleeve. Unsurprisingly, it is a joy to watch. After the young and reckless Adam (Jack O’Connell) writes off his Step Dad’s prized motor, he agrees to repay him by driving Roy (Tim Roth) on a routine job. As the carefully laid plans go awry, the pair are soon on an entirely different journey. As enjoyable as it is aesthetically, with slick cinematography, a striking use of colour and some cracking slow-mo sequences aided by an interesting soundtrack, it seems the direction lets it down in the final third, or essentially a lack of direction, as the plot lulls, failing to follow through the opening which promised so much.
Beginning with a brutal murder, the thread of darkness originates in the opening frames and continues through to the final shots. This violent streak interweaves with humour in Tarantino-esque fashion, the tight witty script well suited to Tim Roth’s dulcet tones but as a Brit flick, the jokes could be said to be more aligned with the Guy Ritchie back catalogue than those of QT which matches O’Connell’s style perfectly. The balance is spot on as these two set out on their road trip, Roth’s Roy with an effortless smoothness, smoking Cubans and donning shades whereas driver Adam blasts urban music, chaotically chewing on Twix bars with an appealing naivety, soaking up the thought of the adventure but secretly overwhelmed by the reality of it. This is brought out exceptionally when at one point at the height of his terror he whines ‘I’m just a kid’. This visual juxtaposition between the two central characters is a real treat, as is the dialogue breezing along building suspense albeit slowly but creating a solid fountain to build on as the narrative develops. The story hops along frantically, taking a change of pace not unlike Ben Wheatley’s The Kill List, also set in the North of England, where the conventional gangster film goes surreal, as boss Peter’s murky world starts falling in around him reaching a somewhat predictable conclusion.
The small cast perform as well as can be expected despite the characters feeling underdeveloped. Veterans Roth and Mullan are at ease in their roles, showing the vast experience they possess in the field of the smaller budget production, both also having taken director roles previously. Roth has this aura of attitude that is so easy to watch, perhaps playing off his associations with the big films that undoubtedly had a hand in the making of this such as Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs. At times during certain driving scenes, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to turn the clock back twenty years and imagine Keitel behind the wheel alongside Roth, the on screen relationship with shades of White and Orange. O’Connell is the big talking point of the cast, unwilling to be overshadowed by the bigger names on the posters. He comes out firing on all cylinders as his characters so often do, playing an equally unhinged but perhaps more innocent version of Cook, the Skins character with who O’Connell made his name. With an impressive CV boasting roles in Harry Brown, The Weekender and Tower Block, get used to him because there will be a lot more to come. The disappointment of the cast is Kierston Wareing but through no fault of her own. She is perfect for the role of the gangster’s mistreated partner, having played similar roles to such a high standard in the past, most notably in Martina Cole adapted TV series’ The Take where she was superb as the long suffering wife of Tom Hardy. Sadly, here she is criminally underused, her character barely coming off the page it was written on.
When the strong copycat blend of influences goes a little sour, the film is left with an aftertaste of unfulfillment, the characters lacking the depth and substance they deserve. The film is brave in its ambition and despite being somewhat one dimensional in the execution, it provides a lot of fun and exciting camera work. After all, the filmmaker is a cinematographer by trade. This is where it becomes clear that although Viveiros has a brilliant eye and an active imagination, his directorial vision falls short of those he aims to replicate but as a first outing, it is far from being unforgivable.