You know that point in any marriage or longterm relationship where the love has died, the sex has followed suit, and you decide that it’d be cheaper and easier just to hire a hitman to kill your partner than resolve the issues or divorce?
No? Well Ib (Nicolas bro) and Edward (Ulrich Thomsen) have, and in one drunken night after it becomes obvious that their disaffected wives, who are close, wine-loving friends, Gritt (Mia Lyhne) and Ingrid (Lene Maria Christensen), fully intend to take them to the cleaners, the emotionally-inept husbands decide the only way to resolve things properly is to kill their wives.
Ib though is unaware that Edward is drunk enough to go online and actually hire a Russian hitman, Igor (Marcin Dorociński), who turns up, fulfilling every Russian cliche in the well-worn book, drunk as a skunk with no intention of sobering up anytime soon, or frankly, at all.
It’s a pretty unorthodox response to the rise and fall of relationships, and as it dawns on Ib and Edward that they have unleashed a Pandora’s box of murder and mayhem that, once released cannot be contained, the panic sets in and they struggle, on a grand and epic scale, to fix what is, by pretty much any estimation, a wholly un-fixable situation.
Complicating things still further is that Ingrid and Gritt, arriving back at the house where Igor has been secreted for the night – despite his loose cannon status, Edward and Ib decide a drink at the local pub is how you handle the arrival of a buyers-remorse hitman; yet another in a long line of very poor decisions – find out just why Igor is there (he has no edit function) and immediately set about hiring their own lunatic assassin from Britain.
If matching their husbands’ stupidity in hiring a hitman wasn’t bad enough, the grandmotherly figure who arrives, with the cringe-inducing name of Mrs Nipplesworthy (Gwen Taylor) – the film has an obsession with sex and its lack thereof in longstanding relationships – is a twisted Mary Poppins on acid who could well be an escaped mental patient.
As wacky narrative momentum goes, Small Town Killers has it all, throwing pretty much every over the top, slapstick idea into the pot in such a throw it at the wall and see what sticks kind of way, that you begin to wonder if there is a trope or overplayed element they haven’t included.
While it never quite reaches the delicious high farce of the best of French or British cinema, Small Town Killers somehow manages, and it is a miracle of plot juggling so audacious that you fully expect it to all fall into a crashing, smoking heap from which no one, least of all Ib and Edward, Gritt and Ingrid, emerge unscathed.
There are so many insanely silly twists and turns, bits and pieces that the film should, by all rights, have no chance of being even remotely entertaining.
And yet, by some miracle, and honestly much of it comes down to the way the four leads carry off initially unlikable characters to the point where you’re rooting for them and yes even find them endearing, Small Town Killers actually works.
It’s a mess sure, and seems intent on grabbing every last cliche and trope around – disaffected, stupid husbands? Tick. Angry, thoughtless wives? Tick? Russian hitman drunk on vodka? Yup. Crazy eccentric Englishwoman? Oh yea. Over-officious policeman (Heinz played by Søren Malling)? – but it somehow works.
It shouldn’t, and there are plenty who agree with that judging by other reviews out there, but it works, and works so well that you’re not only laughing, and granted cringing, but actually find yourselves becoming attached to not only the four leads but even Igor, the thoughtful Russian hitman who simply wants to put unhappy people out of their misery and, ahem, Mrs Nipplesworthy, all of whom end up far more fleshed out than the plot suggests they will be.
While the plot doesn’t get up the head of steam to be true classic farce, it uses its various elements well, burnishing the sheer idiocy of it all with some unexpectedly emotionally-resonant scenes that suggest there is more going on with Ib and Gritt, Edward and Ingrid that you might first otherwise surmise.
In fact, it’s this innate humanity, again not something that ever-escalating insanity of the plot and the madness of an escalating body count, even remotely suggests is possible, goes a long way to lending the film a realness that it should not, by any other measure, possess.
On top of it all, Small Town Killers is funny, very , very funny.
Again, it’s not something you see coming as Ib and Edward spend the first first scenes of the film bickering with their wives, lying to clients and generally coming across as idiotic boobs of the highest order, but as Small Town Killers assembles its well-worn pieces and narrative touch points many of which you’ll see coming from miles away (helped by the flat, seemingly unending scenery around the Danish town of Nibe), things become sillier, funnier, more over the top and so madly nuts, that you fear the film will collapse under the weight of its lunatic audacity.
But director and writer Ole Bornedal somehow manages to keep all the balls in the air – just; no one said the film was a classic of polished farce-making nor the high point of the genre – and as one improbably event piles onto another, and the four leads are forced to confront that this mess of their own making has no elegant escape route, you find yourself laughing way more than you bargained for.
Small Town Killers somehow manages to pull cinematic victory, or at least lo-fi muted hilarity from the jaws of shambling defeat, connecting a whole lot of disparate dots that resemble a random pattern of measles more than the makings of a semi-coherent plot.
In the end, the films works because it doesn’t forget that in the middle of all the silliness and slapstick, that you need characters who make sense to the audience, whose very down to earth needs to be love, listened to and to matter, are relatable even in the midst of grand, barely-together farce.
It’s reminder to pretty much every comedy filmmaker out there that, regardless of how over the top lollipop crazy your film is, how delightfully farcical it might be, or even how well it all goes together in the end, that if your characters matter, and they do in Small Town Killers, that you may just, against all odds, end up with an endearing, funny film that people will enjoy despite all expectations to the contrary.