Tuesday, 27 September 2016

I Hired a Contract Killer (1990)

Directed, produced and writer by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki and starring Frenchman Jean-Pierre Léaud, it's fair to say this droll and quirky London based dark comedy has a European sensibility. It also possesses a curiously stilted air that befits its sense of dislocation and can be best exemplified by self-styled 'Queen of Liverpool' Margi Clarke - then at the height of her fame with TV's Making Out - going to great pains to carefully enunciate each line she delivers for a change.

I Hired a Contract Killer concerns Henri, a lonely émigré who left France because, as he says, no one liked him there. Having washed up in London, he has spent the last 15 years as a clerk at a waterworks department, where no one seems to like him either. When the department is privatised by the government, Henri is made redundant. Believing his life no longer has any purpose, Henri attempts to take his own life but is beset by ill-fortune; the rope snaps scuppering his hanging, and a gas strike means he can't do away with himself by sticking his head in the oven either. Determined to wave goodbye to this cruel world, Henri explores the dark underbelly of the capital and hires a hit-man (a taciturn Kenneth Colley) to put him out of his misery; but after meeting flower-seller Margaret (Clarke) in a pub, he finds a reason to live and tries to cancel the contract. 

Kaurismäki delivers a barely recognisable London yet it remains one which has a ring of authenticity, as befits seeing our culture through a foreign perspective. It's a deeply stylised film, with sharp colours providing contrast with the bleak overall cinematography. As the lead, Léaud lends the proceedings a suitably laconic, hangdog air - I especially laughed aloud at the scene where he stumbles upon a robbery at a pawnbrokers, a scene perfectly framed and performed by Kaurismäki and Léaud.

Look out to for a cameo from Joe Strummer as a pub musician.

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