The first Oxford International Film Festival has opened its features programme with Two Down, a darkly comedic take of a bungled contract killing and its aftermath.
The would be 'killer' is John Thomas, played by Alex Hassell, (Anonymous, RSC's Henry IV part 1 and 2) an idiosyncratic and rather singularly mannered individual (well who else would kill people for a living!) forced to seek refuge at an old safe house after his assignment not only fails, but he finds himself mortally wounded, in need of help ...and answers!
In the film's opening stanza, a young woman is followed down a deserted alleyway. Unfortunately for Mr Thomas this is no routine 'hit' as the woman fights her attacker off long enough for someone out of the shadows to shoot him in the back!
Left for dead, but still alive, Mr Thomas staggers from the scene to a place of refuge and rescue. Unfortunately nothing is going to plan and he is forced to hold a young woman Sophie Watson (Tori Hart) and her local take-away delivery guy Luke (Graham Butler) hostage in Sophie's home. Mr Thomas begins to realise he's been betrayed and his time is running out.
The injured hitman, despite being a murderer, is someone we can't help but like. As the film develops, we learn more about this sharp, clever and quick-witted character and some of his motives. Thomas is a former Special Forces crack shot who, following an explosion in Iraq, is forced into a soul destroying desk job. Luke and Sophie are fascinated by this back story and how it has led to this life choice.
Tori Hart is given a strong role as Sophie Watson, an intriguing character who boasts a few secrets of her own. Graham Butler (Penny Dreadful) is very good as the likeable but dim local take-away delivery boy Luke and his interventions prick the tense environment of the flat.
Speaking post screening scriptwriters Matthew Butler and Tori Hart (also co-founders of production company Fizz and Ginger Films in 2009) confirmed that the plot was heavily inspired by gritty 70s thrillers such as The Conversation which starred Gene Hackman which is clearly evident in its overall look and style, right down to Mr Thomas's moustache; this anti-hero is no Edward Fox (Day of the Jackal) though!
The film is set in modern day London (filming predominantly in and around Crouch End) but in the quick-witted dialogue, supported by a well match musical score from Tom Kane, the whole tone has a pervasive 70s feel to it.
When asked what they might have done with a higher budget for production there didn't seem much Butler and Hart would have changed, but from this viewer's point of view I think some of the pivotal characters might have received a little more development and attention to better root them and their motivations in the narrative arc. Nevertheless the result is an interesting satirical and humorous spin on a classic crime thriller. Shot in 12 days on a very tight budget this is an enjoyable and worthy work to open the festival.