The second feature from Craig Viveiros, The Liability (2012) straddles a number of interesting sub-genres (road trip, gangster yarn, the world-weary hitman). It’s a shame these outwardly intriguing elements have to do battle with a predictable and pretty contrived story. Even an impressive visual canvas eventually plumps for style over substance as the script begins to drag and the pace slackens. A teen tearaway (Jack O’Connell) trashes her criminal stepfather’s prized automobile. As a means of paying off his debt, he’s given the job of driving a professional killer (Tim Roth) to a grizzly job up in the North East.
As their long journey unwinds, an unlikely bond develops between the pair, with the young upstart taking an interest in his passenger’s macabre occupation. Before it all turns into a mutually cheery apprenticeship, a young Eastern European traveller (Talulah Riley) interrupts their disposal of a victim. Escaping from the duo, her freedom has greater and more serious implications for the two, particularly the impressionable teen, who may have been grossly miss-sold his employment opportunities. Despite its issues, Viveiros has crafted a good-looking film on what is obviously a low-budget. It’s a nicely atmospheric affair, offering up a distinctly British terrain which is seldom given a cinematic sheen.
There’s a fair attempt made by The Liability at channelling that brooding, offbeat feel reminiscent of early Coen brothers, but the whole thing meanders along with very little narrative vigour, right through its predictable, revenge overkill of a finale. The two leads have a strong rapport together, and it almost feels like Roth is passing the torch on to his younger, similarly edgy co-star (he himself was cast as a volatile hitman apprentice in Stephen Frears’ 1984 feature The Hit).
If anything, the film is a timely reminder that Roth is still a formidable acting talent, and he gives a nice, understated turn, leaving O’Connell to supply the swagger and bravado. They both help elevate the material, as does St. Trinian’s star Riley and Peter Mullan, who features as O’Connell’s volatile step dad (who appears to dabble in a little sexual torture in his spare time). It would be unfair to label The Liability a complete write-off, but given the talent on board (and some of the unique, almost otherworldly settings) it’s still a missed opportunity.