November 8, 2010
With so much bumbling idiocy, lined with sweet but never saccharine polite social decorum, Wild Target (2010) is a decidedly “English” film. And yet, it’s a remake of a 1993 French comedy thriller, Cible emouvante. Far from the most exciting, inventive or even engaging cinema to hit the big screen, Wild Target is more of an exercise in old school English witticism than it is a superior comedy heist thriller. But more than anything else, Wild Target is testament to the fascinating fact that the English can’t help but make films that express their national identity – even if that expression is outdated and dangerously nostalgic.
Firstly, our protagonist is Bill Nighy, a man whose entire career is built upon a cornerstone of stiff-upper-lip English gentlemanliness. He plays a refined assassin; from an upper-middle class family, as well-educated as he is well-mannered, suave, discreet and with just enough reserve to be charming, Victor Maynard is the type of assassin you’d want if someone put a price on your head. He is, of course, “the best” and, in line with true English stoicism, he never lets emotion or altruism get in the way. That is, until he is hired to take out a beautiful, sassy young woman who is, by her very name, the epitome of the English Rose. The kind of girl who’d steal your sandwich whilst applying lipstick, Rose (Emily Blunt) is savvy and charming as the OTT scamster damsel in distress. For a well rounded comedy trio add to the mix some poor bystander kid, Ferguson (Rupert Grint), who unwittingly gets himself involved in a car park shoot out and only sides with our two unlikely heroes after making a judgement based on 1) class and 2) decorum; “I’m going to give the gun to him [Maynard], he’s got a tie on. And I didn’t shoot him so he’s not as pissed off with me.” With a humorous and dysfunctional family unit of sorts in place, peppered with Maynard’s overprotective over-English Mother (Eileen Atkins), a few East End thugs working for another upper crust villainous sort (Rupert Everett), a second rate smart-arse assassin (Martin Freeman) and a red morris mini a la The Italian Job (1969), you have yourself the makings of an awfully English film indeed.
But best of all, in order to escape the madness and mayhem of central London where crime and killing are as common as the lower classes, they leave the magnificent backdrop of alleyways and art galleries in favour of the good old rolling hills that so wonderfully characterise the English countryside. Finding solace in Maynard’s family home and its surrounding greenery, the three almost immediately sit down to a traditional roast dinner, complete with yorkshire puds. With their pursuers temporarily thrown off track, Maynard sets about training Ferguson in the art of assassination and, in the meanwhile, attempts to tame the proverbial shrew who, as a representative of a younger generation and its values, is desperate to escape the old fashioned values and serene isolation of rural England to return to the bright lights and constant thrill of big city life.
But there’s something wrong with this vision of both England and the English. Dangerously nostalgic for a picture of Englishness that ought by now, to have been abandoned many moons ago, Wild Target is nostalgic for old-time manners but brings with it old-time prejudices. Set in the present day it seems grossly out of place for there to be cheap jokes leveled at a social confusion between good English breeding and latent homosexual tendencies. It is also seems out of place for our “heroes” to be shown driving away from the “East End” when they were never in it; the majority of the film being shot in Central or West London. Filled with an overwhelming whitewash of the upper-middle classes, Wild Target seems to have taken a leaf out of the Richard Curtis book of Imaginary White London.
Verging on annoying and offensive rom-com territory Wild Target is strangely saved by its mediocrity and Englishisms that though misguided are more often than not at least a little endearing. Enough fun to sustain its run time but missing the mark when it comes to substance and intrigue, Wild Target is at once enjoyable and instantly forgettable.
Written by Tara Judah for Liminal Vision.