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An above average comedy remake, but something is definitely lost in translation
on 18 May 2011
There's a long tradition of Hollywood remaking successful French comedies - Three Men and a Baby, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, True Lies, The Birdcage etc - but 2010's Wild Target offers the rare sight of a British remake of a French comedy, and a rather good one at that. Pierre Salvadori's 1993 version starred Jean Rochefort as meticulous hitman Victor Meynard who takes on an apprentice and finds himself protecting rather than killing a conwoman, much to the ire of both his disgruntled employer and his homicidal mother who thinks he's letting the family tradition down. Jonathan Lynn's remake follows the plot fairly closely and without turning it into too broad a farce, albeit losing some of the more dryly funny moments in the process. This time Bill Nighy stands in for Rochefort with Emily Blunt the cause of his confusion and, eventually, Rupert Grint his sidekick.
Taken on its own merits it's a decent little comedy even if it does drag its feet a bit in the last third, but it's the kind of film you'll probably like even more if you haven't seen the original. There are a couple of sly reversals and references to the original: where that had Meynard learning to speak English, this has him learning to speak French. But unfortunately something has been lost in translation. Sometimes it's just jokes - the retirement home staff Eileen Atkins' homicidal mother doesn't get on with no longer meet with accidents - but, while the film never goes over the top or descends into frenzied farce, more often its subtlety and understatement that is lost. At times it tends to explain too much that the original allowed you to piece together, like the gag about being paid half in advance or, more crucially, Victor's emotional confusion, while never really adding anything to the original but a new language.
Nighy is an inspired choice for the lead, underplaying his quiet confusion so well that it's a pity they didn't trust his face to tell the story and cut out the odd bit of extraneous explanatory dialogue when his expression says it so much more eloquently. Blunt's performance is a bit of a problem, although it's hard to put a finger on quite why. Technically she doesn't do anything wrong even if her comic timing is a bit hit-and-miss, and you don't see the wheels turning in the calculated way you do in many `technical' performances, but there's something missing that reminds you you're watching an actress showing her range rather than a wildly unpredictable character. Rupert Everett and Martin Freeman are similarly slightly off-target, Everett making just a little too much of his better lines that would have benefited from being thrown away a bit more nonchalantly while Freeman rather noticeably tries to fill in the gaps in his character's writing by trotting out the odd mannerism a bit too often.
The real surprise is Rupert Grint, who excels in an underwritten role that's been seriously scaled back and watered down from the original: rather than a witness to an earlier hit who is taken on as the hitman's apprentice fully aware of what he's getting into he's now an innocent bystander who stumbles through most of the film none-the-wiser, dulling a bit of the film's edge and comic opportunities in the process (not least the mirroring of his relationship with the rival hitman and his none-too-bright apprentice). The production design isn't quite as canny this time round either, seemingly limited by what's mentioned specifically in the script rather than adding to it - Victor's house isn't quite so subtly morbid while his scrapbook is full of anonymous victims rather than celebrities.
It's still an enjoyable film that doesn't quite outstay its welcome even if it could have been a little tighter in places, and it's certainly better than the average French comedy remake - it's just not quite the elegantly executed bullseye that the original was.
Entertainment's BluRay offers a fine 2.35:1 widescreen transfer though the only extra is 56 minutes of press kit interviews with the cast, director, screenwriter and producer, which is an improvement on the US Bluray, which only includes a brief interview with Blunt.