By Karen Gordon
Dead in a Week: Or Your Money Back is a black comedy ostensibly about suicide, by which I mean it’s really about reasons not to commit suicide.
It’s a tricky premise, and maybe a bit too much for first time writer/director Tom Edmunds Not even the reassuring presence of Tom Wilkinson, who makes everything he’s in better, can right this particular ship.
The story centers on William (Aneurin Barnard, last seen running from Nazi bombardments on the beach in last year’s Dunkirk). With his white skin, shaggy dark hair, eyes and wardrobe, he comes off a little gothy, so it’s perhaps no surprise that he doesn’t fear the darkness of eternal sleep.
He hasn't’ been able to get his writing career off the ground. But, for reasons that aren’t really clear, rather than keep trying like the rest of us literary wannabes, William decides it’s time to end it. And so he turns to the services of a rather prickly professional assassin, Leslie (Wilkinson).
They agree on terms and a timeline and then part ways. Leslie will do the deed at some point in the next week.
The job has come at a good time for Leslie. He needs the hit. It’s not the money. But his boss feels that Leslie is over the hill, too sloppy and needs to retire from the assassination business. But the idea of retirement scares the hell out of him.
Leslie believes that work, not his wife, nor his unfulfilled promise to take her on a world cruise, is what gives his life meaning. He sees the hit on William as a chance to “make his quota,” prove his mettle and keep his job.
In the meantime, William’s fortunes change. He gets a call from a publisher’s lovely assistant named Ellie (Freya Mavor), who arranges a meeting with her boss and William. She not only wants them to sign William, but she wants to work with him on his project. And the more they talk, the more WIlliam sees that there’s a little something-something between the two of them.
William wants to cancel the job, unfortunately Leslie’s personal agenda means that he’s not really open to the discussion. And soon there are other people involved. Guys and guns and assassination attempts gone right and wrong.
Edmunds seems to be aiming to make a quick clever movie a la Guy Ritchie, where everyone is pointing a loaded gun at someone as part of a negotiation, and gangsters dying seems more cartoonish than real life so we’re not bothered. But the movie never gets that quite right.
Dead in a Week: Or Your Money Back is meant to snap along with people shooting each other deliberately and/or accidentally in ways that are meant to be darkly comic. The actors give it their all, but the movie never quite achieves the right overall tone.
On top of that, Leslie and William’s stories don’t quite balance each other out. William is a bit of a lamb, a sweet guy who hasn’t done anyone any harm. He’s in a rom-com. Leslie, on the other hand, is a heavy, dark character who wants to murder someone no matter what, to feel relevant and to feel alive. There’s no conscience to this grim man, whose story is perhaps better suited to a film noir.
But the problems start early. Once William hires Leslie, his storyline feels like it’s run out of steam. He’s not neurotic enough to be interesting and too sweet-natured to convince us that he longs for death. As a result, the movie falls flat early and never recovers.
Dead in a Week: Or Your Money Back. Written and directed by Tom Edmunds. Starring Aneurin Barnard, Tom Wilkinson and Freya Mavor. Opens in Toronto and Ottawa Friday, November 30.