Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back)
After several unsuccessful suicide attempts a young man enlists an ageing assassin to end his life for a nominal fee in Tom Edmunds’ Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back).
Suicide is such a serious and sensitive subject matter that applying comedy to it is almost unthinkable. The tone has to be spot on or there’s a high risk of offending a large chunk of the audience. This is a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously in terms of what it tries to say and how it goes about telling its story which definitely helps dodge the true implications of someone wanting to take their own life. The only example of this working -prior to this- that I can think of is A Practical Guide to a Spectacular Suicide. Dead in a Week (Or Your Money Back) actually has some broad stroke similarities to that particular film though it’s probably too obscure to call it an influence.
One of the drawbacks to this film is that it relies a little too heavily on some obvious influences. A key scene resembles a similar sequence in In Bruges for example and there are other examples of this throughout. It isn’t detrimental to the overall experience and the homages are at times enjoyable but at times not enough is done to distance what this film is trying to achieve from what it was clearly influenced by.
As a black comedy the burning question is over whether it happens to be funny or not. I’m of the opinion that comedy is more subjective than other things because it does entirely depend on individual senses of humour. For me this film is very funny because it fully commits to a fairly wacky style that I found to be very engaging.
Much of this humour comes from the characters who serve a very particular purpose and they fit perfectly in a carefully constructed narrative that never takes itself too seriously. The protagonist is William (Aneurin Barnard); a young man who is very unlucky when it comes to the business of ending his life. After 10 attempts -including cries for help- he starts to think that he might be immortal and seems almost resigned to the unappealing business of living.
Barnard delivers an endearing performance as someone who is very lonely and lacking in direction while still being interesting enough to carry the film. His understated line delivery highlights the frustration associated with his various attempts to end his life that play out as a hilarious montage of well known suicide methods that don’t work out for him.
William finds hope in Leslie (Tom Wilkinson); an assassin who specialises in assisted suicide as a way to meet a quota set by his employers. His business comes from the lost and hopeless looking to end their own lives but lack the conviction to go through with it on their own. I found the bureaucracy associated with contract killings to be a really good source of humour because it’s a simple yet great contrast between the exciting and the banal. Applying structure and rules to something as unlawful as contract killings is a great idea and the mention of there being administration to this process adds a little bit of depth to the background that really makes a difference.
Tom Wilkinson is predictably excellent as Leslie. His dry wit and casual professionalism adds a sense of routine to the character adding to the impression that he has spent years doing this job and honing his craft. There’s a real honesty to his performance that makes it believable that people would trust what he has to offer due to him being completely upfront about who he is and what he plans to do.
The organisation is represented by Harvey (Christopher Eccleston) who exists to give Leslie a reality check about the changing nature of the assassin business and have difficult conversations with him about where he fits into that in a more modern context. His handful of scenes are hilarious with Eccleston completely disappearing into the role.
Leslie’s home life as depicted is an inspired choice. Some of the more memorable scenes come with his interactions with his wife who is obsessed with winning an embroidery competition. Once again it’s a great contrast between the exciting and banal that adds layers to both the film and the intended comedy.
Freya Mavor’s Ellie takes on the role of a companion for William allowing him to voice his ideas and encourage him to find a reason to live. She makes a good foil for William as she isn’t shy about expressing her own opinions or pointing out when she thinks he’s more than a little misguided. Ellie is really wacky in a way that fits this film and contributes well to the scenes that she’s in thanks to Freya Mavor’s sense of comic timing. She’s part of a small cast that works to sell the tone of this film.
One issue the story has is that momentum is lost because the stakes never feel that high. The idea that Leslie could strike at any time fails to create any real tension which means that the pacing suffers in the mid point to a degree. Pretty much everything that happens is entertaining and the characters are always engaging but creating a more palpable sense of urgency would have made the narrative progress better.
An excellent darkly funny movie that never takes itself too seriously. The characters are all engaging and are played to perfection by a very talented cast who fulfil their purpose wonderfully while adding extra layers to the characters. Most of the humour comes right from the characters as well as contrasting the exciting with the banal which works really well as it uses the established toolbox nicely. There is no real threat level attached to the possibility of the death of the main character which makes the middle of the film sag a bit but what it loses in pacing it makes up for in sheer character driven entertainment.
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