movie film review | chris tookey

I Hired A Contract Killer

  I Hired A Contract Killer Review
Tookey's Rating
5 /10
Average Rating
4.67 /10
Jean-Pierre Leaud, Margi Clarke, Kenneth Colley
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Directed by: Aki Kaurismaki
Written by: Aki Kaurismaki

Released: 1990
Origin: Finland/ Sweden
Length: 79


A Frenchman has second thoughts about having himself killed.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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In a cheerless Britain reminiscent of a less tropical Finland, a Frenchman with the joie de vivre of a crushed snail (Jean-Pierre Leaud) is sacked from his job at Her Majesty's Waterworks when the company is privatised. In recognition of 15 years of service, he is presented with a gold watch which doesn't work, and isn't gold. His desk is removed while he is still sitting at it.
On returning to his bedsit, he hangs himself, whereupon the ceiling collapses. He puts his head in the oven, but is foiled by a gas strike. In desperation, he gets a taxi driver who dutifully calls him "guv" and takes him to where Cockney criminals hang out. In the improbably named "Honolulu Bar", which turns out to be no less implausibly situated in the middle of a bomb site, Leaud uses his life savings to hire a man to murder him.
While waiting for his merci killing, Leaud repairs to the
local pub, where he meets a flower-seller (Margi Clarke) who abruptly inspires him with the will to live. He returns to the Honolulu Bar to cancel the contract, only to find that the building has been demolished. He and his girl-friend are stalked through various London hotels - all of them astonishingly bleak, whether they are called Hotel Splendide or Hotel Albania - by a Financial Times-reading assassin (Kenneth Colley), who himself is coughing blood and has only weeks to live.
The hapless Leaud becomes innocently involved in an armed robbery, at the end of which he is left holding the murder weapon. He is judged guilty by the tabloid press, and finds himself on the run from society as well as his would-be killer. A chase through a graveyard ends with the assassin becoming so depressed that he shoots himself. An arbitrary happy ending follows at indecent speed.
As you may have surmised, the plot is deliberately preposterous. The unreality is further heightened by the same two paint colours (grubby blue and a red the colour of dried blood) being used, whatever the location. Characters are thinly motivated and speak dialogue which is only just in English. Stock characters from Ealing comedy begin philosophising about their deeper selves at inopportune moments.
The air of loopiness is further enhanced by multiple allusions to old movies. Our hero's office paperweight is an Eiffel Tower identical to the ones which featured in The Lavender Hill Mob . Props are anachronistic, as if they have been borrowed from old Michael Powell films. As in all the worst westerns, conversation ceases when our hero enters a bar.
Like Kaurismaki's previous film Ariel , the film is partly an ironic comment on the way other film-makers pontificate about social alienation. At one point, Margi Clarke explains, straight-faced, why she is willing to emigrate from her tower-block: "The working class," she declares, "has no fatherland". It's a line which Godard or some British film-makers might use seriously: Kaurismaki undoubtedly has tongue planted firmly in chic.
Critics have long agonised about whether there is any method to this 33 year-old director's post-modernist madness. As usual, his irony overwhelms his apparent message: that the gloom of "social realist" film-makers is, if anything, understated. Certainly, he and his customary partner-in-grime, cameraman Timo Salminen, portray their imaginary London with considerable cinematic power, as a wasteland inhabited by criminals and no-hopers.
But there is no sense of why this is, or what can remedy such a situation, beyond falling in love. The result is a film which is nihilistic, silly and self-indulgent, but also the most comically sustained of his pictures so far. If you have a taste for Twin Peaks , Jim Jarmusch movies, or are simply a bit weird, this could be the film for you.

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