I don't know if it was Bill Nighy's self-possession, Emily Blunt's kittenish radiance, the way it brightened up the dark humor or what, but I loved Wild Target. From its opening murder to its closing comedic invocation of serial killer pathology, I was thoroughly amused and entertained. Part of it has to be that there are plenty of jokes and that they flow out of the established personalities of the characters, two things which surprisingly few comedies achieve. Part of it has to be the marvelously light touch that director Jonathan Lynn brings to the proceedings. Maybe part of it was I happened to be in the right mood for this film's charms. Whatever the reason, this was one of the more fun times I've had recently watching a movie.
Victor Maynard (Bill Nighy) is a very British hit-man who, as his infirm mother (Eileen Atkins) reminds him, is getting a bit on in years to still be single and childless. After all, Victor should have someone to hand the family business to as Victor's assassin father did to him. When a beautifully reckless thief named Rose (Emily Blunt) scams 800,000 pounds out of the menacingly cultured Ferguson (Rupert Everett) for a forged painting, Victor is called in to take her out. Happenstance prevents Victor from killing her until he's fallen completely under the spell of her audacious, oblivious approach to life. When Ferguson tries to have Rose killed by someone else, Victor saves her and the two of them get tangled up with an aimless lad named Tony (Rupert Grint), who demonstrates a surprising talent for violence and catches Victor's eye as the apprentice he's never had. The three of them try to lie low but find they're almost as big a problem for each other as the hired killers Ferguson sets on their trail.
If you pinned me down, I'd have to credit Wild Target with a near perfect beginning which not only established the tone of its story but also accomplished that oft neglected feat of giving the audience a reason to care about its main character. With twin scenes of Victor practicing his French on the way to a defenestration and then sparing the life of the parrot eye witness to another killing, the viewer is clued in to the absurdity of the plot and encouraged to suspend disbelief about the morality of a professional murderer. Seeing Victor kill two people without remorse and then balk at dispatching a defenseless animal is the hook the audience needs to grab onto Victor and establish a connection with him. So many filmmakers automatically assume that connection with the main character exists and their films founder because of it.
Nighy is delightful in his portrayal of a proper English gentleman who happens to kill people for a living. It's a role that invites caricature but Nighy gives Victor a grounding in reality, or as close as is appropriate for the tone of this motion picture. Blunt is damn near irresistible playing a woman with all the chaotic appeal of adolescent narcissism but without completely ignoring the aggravating aspects of such a personality. They're absolutely great together, particularly with the interplay of Rose's unfettered sexuality with Victor's more rarefied appreciation of her.
And then the relationship between Victor and Tony compliments things so well. It exists independent of Rose and has its own funny dimension of deception and confusion. Victor's inability to distinguish between a fatherly affection for Tony and possibly latent homosexuality, and Tony's unashamed reaction to his consternation, is wonderfully insightful of modern masculinity.
I'll admit that Rose gets a bit too stupid at the end and the movie leans a little too hard on the "family vibe" thinly built around Rose, Victor and Tony in a scene that's way too plainly melodramatic for the rest of the film. Those minor deficiencies come too late in the game to spoil anything, however.
Wild Target was fun to watch. I'm not entirely sure why, but maybe that's part of the fun.
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