I’m so glad that Emily Blunt landed the lead role in this week’s release of The Girl on the Train. The adaptation of the international bestseller should hopefully (and rightfully) launch her into an area of stardom which has been a long time coming, yet in my opinion, has always eluded the actress despite both a number of notable and high-profile assignments and her flawless work in all of them.
One such case of Blunt showing she is a performer that can prove herself adept to any sort of material you can throw at her is the actress’s turn in the 2010 British comedy Wild Target.
Wild Target opens on notorious, yet secretive, hit man Vincent (Bill Nighy), who has earned a reputation as the most skilled and dependable hitman in England, all the while keeping his identity a secret. When he is contracted by the wealthy Ferguson (Rupert Everett) to take out a con artist named Rose (Blunt) who has swindled him out of a sizable amount of cash in exchange for a fake Rembrandt, Victor thinks it’s just another run of the mill job. However, the intriguing and beguiling Rose is not an ordinary target and ends up roping Vincent into helping her. Adding to the fun is scrappy teenager Tony (Rupert Grint), competing hitman Hector (Tony), and Victor’s eternally-disapproving mother Louisa (Eileen Atkins).
Dark comedy is such a tricky line that most films which attempt to walk it tend to inject this kind of sometimes-risque humor in either their film’s action or dialogue. The beauty of Wild Target is that its one of those rarest of beasts which manages to garner laughs through both methods. The scene with the parrot reciting Victor’s name after he has just shot his owner is made all the more hilarious when the animal edges towards the other side of his perch saying, “Uh oh, I love you,” to Victor. There’s more fun to be had when he presents the parrot to his mother as a gift and even more when in a later scene, Victor pays a visit to his mother and sees the bird in the corner of the room, impaled and dead.
Likewise, the idea of Ferguson’s dim-witted goon Mike (Gregor Fisher) continuously getting shot by Tony in a variety of places is a running joke that always scores. “Put it on ice and I’m sure the hospital can put it back on,” Tony worriedly exclaims after shooting off Tony’s ear in the hotel suite he’s sharing with Vincent and Rose. Soon after closing the door, Tony quickly opens it back up and states, “There’s some ice in the mini bar,” before fleeing.
Working so perfectly with the side-splitting action that never ceases throughout the entirety of Wild Target is the film’s hilarious dialogue, which amps up the somewhat dark proceedings even more. Such moments includes Mike trying to drown Tony in a hotel bathtub. “You tried to drown me,” shouts Tony to Mike as he shakingly holds a gun in his hand. “Only a bit,” replies a nervous Mike. Another standout instance occurs when an over-confident Ferguson says to an overly-cautious Rose, “My dear, I’m not a gangster,” as his thugs pull out their guns. “But I was in real estate for 20 years. I stop at nothing,” he adds. The aim of truly great dark comedy is to take undeniably harsh situations and highlight the pure absurdity lurking underneath them. It’s a feat so incredibly difficult to master, but one which Wild Target manages so effortlessly.
Victor isn’t the kind of role Nighy is typically associated with, but he plays his character so effectively, mainly because he plays it straight. Likewise, Rose is a fantastic role for Blunt, giving her a chance to play a likable bad girl. Her entrance, cycling on the wrong side of the road, using firecrackers to get past guards, and cycling through London’s National Gallery calls to mind the type of whimsical flair that made films like Charade so much fun. Meanwhile, Everett’s role is colorful and flashy, taking advantage of his comedic skills. The same can said for Grint, who seems to be having the most fun out of anyone in the cast. Atkins is a hoot and Freeman is great at his part mainly because he’s so unconventionally cast, as evidenced by the gleeful smile he displays as he shoots his victims.
As is the case with most dark comedies, especially one involving hitmen, Wild Target failed on both sides of the Atlantic. Audiences simply didn’t latch on to the film’s wonderful blend of farce and dark laughter. As a result, the film couldn’t even recoup it’s already-meager budget, or garner more than just a small handful of positive reviews from critics.
Wild Target’s director Jonathan Lynn knows his way around a comedy, having directed the cult favorite Clue and the bona fide hit My Cousin Vinny, as well as the bombs Trial and Error and The Fighting Temptations. Thankfully, Wild Target belongs to the former group thanks to its ability to move at such a brisk and delicate pace that never lingers or gives the audience time or reason to get bored. The film is a tightly-wound piece; a delightfully dark farce through and through that takes advantage of a specific brand of humor rides it all the way home.