Bill Nighy, a British actor who's starred in Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Valkyrie and countless other movies. How many moviegoers could actually pick him out of a lineup? He's an immensely talented actor as he shows in 2010's Wild Target.
A middle-aged man living outside London, Victor Maynard (Nighy) lives a quiet, dignified life. There's a catch though; Victor comes from a long line of hired killers and assassins. He's good at what he does, and there are no assassins better than him. He's managed to keep his identity and appearance hidden over these many years, working through middlemen and phone calls. Victor has now been tasked with killing Rose (Emily Blunt), an accomplished thief who duped a well-connected mobster, Ferguson (Rupert Everett), out of $900,000 with a fake Rembrandt. Ferguson wants her dead, and Victor intends to oblige. Tracking her down though, Victor instead sees one of Ferguson's henchmen about to kill her....and shoots him instead. Rose already knew she was in trouble, but she mistakes Victor for a police officer. Now, he's protecting the girl he's supposed to have killed already.
This is going to sound immensely stupid, but I've got to say it just the same. Now, obviously this is a British-made movie -- both cast and crew -- that was filmed on location in England. But any-hoo, this is a very, very British movie. The humor goes two ways. Some is incredibly dark, subtle stuff. Chasing Rose, Victor walks into a fitting room, fires blindly into the room, hits a target, realizes it isn't Rose and simply walks away. It's played for laughs, but for the most part it works. If you're going to do a movie about a hired killer, go really dark or really goofy and stupid. For the most part, director Jonathan Lynn leans toward the dark, but it's pretty funny dark. There's also some far goofier humor that reminded me of some Benny Hills antics, and that's not always a good thing but more on that later.
The best thing about this flick was Nighy as hired assassin Victor Maynard. The highly skilled, loner hired assassin is a familiar character that's been in hundreds and thousands of movies. It is a familiar part, but Nighy makes it his own. The history helps as we learn his family is a long line of accomplished killers, his father teaching him the tricks of the trade as he grew up while his mother (Eileen Atkins) similarly helped, but now she just worries about him and why he doesn't have a wife. Victor is the prim and proper Englishman, a quiet, dignified and distinguished gentleman....who just happens to kill people. He lives in a quiet, perfectly manicured country house where dust and dirt are mortal enemies, even his furniture covered in plastic. He has no real friends though, living his own isolated life, making his post-hit predicament a tad more interesting.
And here comes some of that British humor, almost all of it good. We get a flick with three people on the run and a long line of people pursuing them. Some parts are better than others, but they're all having a lot of fun. Blunt is one of my favorite actresses, and she's a great counter to Nighy's button-down killer. She's a kleptomaniac, stealing things non-stop. Her more brash, colorful personality bristles at the all-business Victor, and their scenes together produce some really funny moments. Also on the run is Tony (Harry Potter's Rupert Grint), an apparently homeless young man who witnesses the shooting and oddly enough, becomes Victor's apprentice. Everett is underused as the humorous but sinister Ferguson with Gregor Fisher as Mike, his much-maligned, much-beaten up henchmen. Also worth mentioning is Martin Freeman as Dixon, a brutal, sadistic killer with no qualms about his victims, and his dimwitted henchmen Fabian (Geoff Bell). Lots of characters, lots of fun, some better utilized than others.
'Wild' packs a whole lot into a 98-minute movie. The first 45 minutes are pretty frenetic with chases and shootouts and twists and turns. The second half of the movie slows down a little too much for my liking as Victor, Rose and Tony retreat to his isolated country home. We get to know the characters better as they bond on the run, but the pacing drags in a big way. Mostly though, I liked this flick from beginning to end. It's fun watching Nighy's Victor improvise on the fly, especially as he wavers between helping and killing Rose. Funny, quirky movie that doesn't try too hard and while it treads the fine line, it isn't too cute.
Wild Target (2010): ***/****