Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back)

 

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A British debut that encounters problems but pleases even so.

 
Dead in a Week

Tom Wilkinson

 

The title of this first feature by writer/director Tom Edmunds was adroitly chosen. It indicates immediately that we can expect a black comedy and also points to the pivotal plot point. William (Aneurin Barnard) is a disillusioned young man, a writer who cannot get his work published and who has become suicidal. Indeed, when we meet him first jumping from a bridge over the Thames it proves to be just the latest of many failed suicide bids. In the circumstances he turns to a professional hitman, Leslie (Tom Wilkinson), and signs a contract under which, for a payment, Leslie will shoot him within the coming week. The money will be refundable should Leslie fail to deliver, but the contract cannot be rescinded - which would be fine but for the fact that a publisher’s assistant, Ellie (Freya Mavor), becomes keen on William’s book and he finds himself falling in love with her.

 

This basic plot is hardly new - indeed the Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki came to London to make a comparable piece, I Hired a Contract Killer, screened here in 1991. Edmunds, however, adds a counter-theme in that this is also the story of how Leslie, beginning to lose his touch, is determined to resist being forced into retirement by his boss (Christopher Eccleston) - if he kills William, Leslie will have made his quota and he believes that in that event he will be kept on.

 

Such details as the binding signed contract are improbable enough for the film to exist in its own world as a comedy in which quite a number of people die. It makes for an amiable work enhanced as it is by a cast who all play well and rightly play it straight. In this way Edmunds’s personality as a filmmaker does come through. Nevertheless, I never felt that in his capacity as writer Edmunds had fully found a way of blending the contrasting elements. The humour works best early on and extends to such moments as Leslie and his boss riffing on the subject of Michael J. Fox and his films. But the fact that William feels the futility of life invites sympathy and so causes the audience to want him and Ellie to find happiness. This reduces the effectiveness of the black comedy element and late plot twists end up halfway between being comic and almost serious. The best balance is to be found in the portrait of Leslie’s wife (Marion Bailey) devoted to needlework and supportive of her husband yet fully aware of the nature of his occupation. Comparisons point up the weakness (in Alexander Mackendrick’s The Ladykillers our sympathies are safely with the naive but indestructible Mrs Wilberforce while we laugh happily at her would-be assassins and in 1950’s Last Holiday, a personal favourite of mine, J. B. Priestley illustrates perfectly how to tell the story of a man expecting to die in a manner that becomes by turns hilariously amusing and genuinely touching). By contrast, Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) seems slight and less well considered, but it is a promising debut all the same and it gives pleasure, albeit on a modest level. 

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Tom Wilkinson, Aneurin Barnard, Freya Mavor, Marion Bailey, Christopher Eccleston, Nigel Lindsay, Velibor Topic, Orion Lee, Marcia Warren, Getlin Anthony.

 

Dir Tom Edmunds, Pro Nick Clark Windo and Daniel-Konrad Cooper, Screenplay Tom Edmunds, Ph Luke Bryant,  Pro Des Noam Piper, Ed Tariq Anwar, Music Guy Garvey, Peter Jobson and Paul Saunderson, Costumes Natalie Humphries.

 

Guild of Assassins/Rather Good Films-Republic Film.
90 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 16 November 2018. Cert. 15.