What should be immediately said about The London Firm, 101 Films most recent release, is that it successfully accomplishes everything you would expect of a thriller. So if you are in the mood for something of this genre, don’t skip The London Firm because it doesn’t have a multi-million dollar marketing campaign. However, there are a few aspects which slightly drag it down, which is unfortunate because the majority of the film is sharp and polished.
The plot focuses around two contract-killers who climb into a small lorry with their employer’s lawyer, only to wake up to find the lawyer dead, with the younger hitman’s magazine shoved down his throat. This was brilliant in two ways: firstly, the claustrophobic setting of the truck’s cargo-hold heightens the proceeding tension between the two characters left alive and secondly, ‘death by magazine’ is pretty epic. I’ve been waiting for someone to successfully accomplish magazine murder since that dude failed to kill Sigourney Weaver with one in Alien.
What ensues is a plot which throws you from one theory to another as the two men communicate with their captors via phone and are sucked into their twisted games. The film succeeds in inducing the viewer into juggling multiple theories as to what is going on and ensures everyone is a suspect until the climactic ending. However, the twists and turns of suspicion results in some slight confusion as to who masterminded what.
Vincent Regan (300, Troy, Clash of Titans) does a sterling job of playing the haunted, aging contract-killer who has seen and experienced too much and wants to get out of the game. Seb Castang plays the younger, jumpier hitman who Regan’s character believes has much to learn about the business. Sadly, Regan’s quality performance does illuminate flaws in Castang, who is a bit overshadowed by the more experienced Regan and Stephen Marcus (Lock Stock, Fast & Furious 6). I think it says something about how engaging Regan is, however, that a conversation in the back of a truck keeps a viewer gripped for an hour. The dialogue is sharp and sometimes witty, although on occasion there are laboured attempts to set-up a ‘come-back’ which disrupts an otherwise fluid script.
You may have noticed also that I am awkwardly referring to the two men as ‘Castang’s character’ or ‘the older hitman’ which is because the two characters didn’t seem to have names. In fact, if you observe the credits, the vast majority of the cast didn’t. Maybe the film wants us to just see them as their stereotypes, not complex individuals. However, with the plot oscillating around this small truck compartment, the construction of multifaceted, intricate characters was key. The ‘older guy’ had a slight back-story, but no time is spent fleshing out the ‘younger guy’, his motives or what makes him tick. Similarly, ‘the woman’ as she is descriptively named, played by Csilla Barath-Bastaic, presents perhaps the most twisted and interesting figure in the film (not to mention the only woman with any significant contribution) and yet we learn very little of her character.
These are all minor complaints, but there were a few slips in attention to detail which were pretty criminal as they could have been so easily corrected. For example, there is this infuriating graffiti over the inside of the lorry which must have been done by a fourteen year-old intern who was let loose with the pens. I was trying to focus on the scene but kept getting distracted by: ‘Don’t like my driving call 0800 kiss my arss’ (on the inside of the van), ‘ya mum smells like piss’ (who writes ‘ya’?) and a big red scrawling of a penis. Who let this person go rogue on the set? And why didn’t someone stop them? There were also a couple of moments where the ADR (where they record the actors voice after) was not put in smoothly, and it sounded like some other bloke had poked his nose through the side of the van and shouted a line into the conversation.
These technical drawbacks don’t undermine the fact that this film beat expectations. It was very thoughtful and had a level of ‘heart’ I haven’t seen in a film of this genre for a long time. It is a great balance between the mainstream thrillers that get your blood pumping and the independent films which often volunteer some fresh ways of presenting the genre. There were some shots which genuinely made me smile just because they were so nicely done and that passion translates into a sincerity you just don’t get in mainstream thrillers. Plus: death by magazine.