And then it all goes wrong.
I'd heard a few reviews of this film before choosing to see it, and it irks me that not one of them revealed that the last quarter of The Kill List is so divorced from the first that it's like watching a different film altogether. It reminded me of Charlie Kaufman's brilliant Adaptation, where the lead character's idiot brother suddenly steps in to finish the movie. Hilarious in that case - mystifying in this.
Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump start by crafting a stunning examination of the family life of a suburban hit-man that makes The Sopranos look glitzy. Neil Maskell is unnerving as Jay, whose long hiatus from 'work' has led to constant fighting with his wife. Their son witnesses the discord, and the tension and humanity is palpable.
Then Jay is drawn back into doing a well-paid job by his old crony, Gal, and the plot starts to thicken. Gradually the low-key family realism gives way to a realism of a far nastier kind, coupled with sudden moments of real mystery and total surprise.
Wheatley layers the non-action with skill, and really knows how to ratchet up the intrigue. The three main characters are all very good, and even the smaller roles of the son and girlfriend are well played and brilliantly written. You get the feeling you are watching something very special unfold on screen, with no indication of how it will all be resolved. I am a hardened end-guesser and am often right, but with this movie I had NO IDEA where it was going, which is exciting and rare.
However, just as I was preparing for a stunning denouement with all the seemingly-impossible ends tied up, The Kill List turned an ankle and tripped into a ditch full of dung.
O. M. G.
I'm not into writing spoilers - even when the filmmakers have done more spoiling than I ever could in this case. Suffice to say that 'and then he woke up and it was all a dream' would have been a more credible ending, and would at least have made sense of SOME of the set up, instead of none of it at all.
If there was ever a progression of narrative here, it is lying somewhere on a cutting room floor, crying its eyes out at the wasted opportunity.
When the credits came up, there was a stunned silence in the packed cinema and someone turned to his mate and said:'That's the last time YOU choose the effing film'. Judging by the snorts of sympathetic laughter it caused, I'd say it was the best review I'd heard of The Kill List.
I've never been so disappointed by a film that promised so much.