The Guard brothers' '70s-set second feature uses the styles of the decade to set itself apart from the Brit-thriller pack
A Brit thriller releasing straight on to Sky Cinema might sound, on paper, like a recipe for pure schlocky nonsense, but there’s a surprising and admirable ambition to Dead Shot, the second feature from the Guard brothers. A Troubles-set tale of murder and revenge, it is rather thin, but a propulsive plot and aping of ‘70s styles sets it apart.
Starting in Armagh in 1975, Dead Shot opens on its most purely shocking set-piece, as lethal IRA man O’Hare (Colin Morgan) is ambushed by British paras on the road to hospital with his currently in-labour wife Carol, leaving O’Hare wounded and Carol dead. The shooter is a soldier called Tempest (Aml Ameen), and from here we follow him and O’Hare from Northern Ireland to London as O’Hare seeks vengeance while Tempest is recruited into an unofficial dirty war against IRA agents in London by a mysterious British higher-up played by Mark Strong.
There’s very little time wasted in Dead Shot, pinging between the two leads as their inevitable final showdown draws ever nearer, eventually arriving with a nicely rug-pulling ending. Though there’s little in the way of proper *action*, a couple of set pieces do get the blood pumping, especially an assassination attempt taking place in the middle of a bombing of Paddington station – the moments of violence are unfussy but punchy, with some squelchy sound design as victims bleed out. On what can’t have been a very big budget, the Guards have managed to craft an impressively convincing period recreation of ‘70s London, and this lived-in feel really helps elevate the tension.
This immersion is completed by visuals and a score that seek not just to show us ‘70s London but to feel like the paranoid and political thrillers of that era. The camerawork could use a little more verve to really get there, but it’s convincing enough and the disquieting music is considerably more successful.
There’s not a huge amount in the way of character work, though. We get to know O’Hare only through his quest for revenge and while a bit more attention is paid to Tempest, the attempts made by the film to get us to balance our sympathies between the two leads fall a bit flat. It doesn’t really matter how bad Tempest feels or how much he wants to protect his girlfriend when the first thing we see him do is extrajudicially murder a pregnant woman. Ameen and Morgan both give serviceable performances, but these guys are more agents of a plot than real people, while Felicity Jones is completely underserved as a British IRA sympathiser feeding information to O’Hare’s boss.
There’s not much in Dead Shot that will truly linger in the imagination but, at under 90 minutes, it’s an efficiently exciting little thriller that proves a very fine calling card for its writer-directors. It’s been 14 years between their debut film and this, but the casual confidence on display here should put them on the line for a bigger-budget third outing in a much shorter timeframe.
Dead Shot is released on Sky Cinema from 12 May.Where to watch