Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) (15) | Close-Up Film Review
This is a very British black comedy, which more than makes up for its lack of a big budget with a deft script and direction and quality actors playing roles that are off beat and original. A first feature from writer/director Tom Edwards, it is a very entertaining and well paced ninety minutes.
William (Aneurin Barnard) is an unsuccessful young writer, who can see no point to his life and wants to end it. He’s not very successful in that enterprise either. We first meet him on his ninth attempt at suicide, trying to throw himself off Chelsea bridge into the Thames. As he’s currently earning his crust as a lifeguard in a leisure centre, that doesn’t seem a potentially effective choice anyway. While he is plucking up his courage, he encounters a middle aged man Leslie (Tom Wilkinson), who claims to be a professional assassin and, rather than discouraging him in his enterprise, suggests William could perhaps use a bit of professional help. When William’s suicide jump fails yet again in an unexpectedly comic way, he decides that perhaps outsourcing is indeed the answer and commissions Leslie to do the job.
Inevitably though things now change for William. A publisher is interested in publishing his novel, the publisher’s assistant is an attractive and outspoken young woman Ellie (Freya Mavor), who shows a more than professional interest in William and he decides he wants to postpone his assassination and see how things turn out.
Lesley however needs the job. He is losing his touch and his boss Harvey (Christopher Eccleston) wants him to retire. But Lesley refuses to ”take the carriage clock” and in the course of his botched attempts to carry out his assignment a bizarre and blackly comic relationship develops between him and his client. Meanwhile the somewhat offbeat romance between William and Ellie is flourishing.
The story is well thought out with some original twists and a good sense of its own style and pace but what makes the film is the originality of its characters. Barnard and Mayor as the young couple are engaging and offbeat enough to avoid romantic cliché, but it is the older characters who have the real meat.
Wilkinson is superb as the irascible and increasingly desperate Leslie and the details of his respectable suburban lifestyle are a delight, particularly his relationship with his wife Penny (Marion Bailey), whom he encourages in her ambitions to win at competitive championship embroidery. Eccleston manages to bring comic believability to his character, while playing him as a larger than life human Gerald Scarfe cartoon. And in a very different and more restrained way than Tarantino did in the climax of Reservoir Dogs, the film uses comedy to point up the sheer ridiculousness of people pointing guns at each other.
Suicide is a serious subject but this comedy brings a different perspective to it. Perhaps its endorsement by the Samaritans in the closing credits indicates that in real life, as William does in the film, it is always possible to find ways of making life worth living after all.