D: Geoffrey Fletcher / 88m
Cast: Saoirse Ronan, Alexis Bledel, James Gandolfini, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Danny Trejo, Tatiana Maslany, Lynda Gravatt
Two teenagers, Violet (Bledel) and Daisy (Ronan), when they’re not obsessing over singing sensation Barbie Sunday, are professional assassins. They work for a man called Chet but they’ve never met him; instead they’re given their jobs via an intermediary, Russ (Trejo). When their next assignment – to kill a man who’s stolen from Chet – is given to them the set up seems a little strange: the man has contacted Chet and given his name and address. As planned, the pair wait for the man at his apartment, but fall asleep while waiting for him to come home. When they wake, they find he’s covered them with a quilt and is unsurprised to see them; in fact, he tells them he’s been expecting them. With the hit already not going to plan, Violet and Daisy decide to just shoot the man and have done with it but when they try – blasting away at where he was sitting moments before – they find he’s got up and made them cookies.
Now out of bullets, Violet leaves the apartment to get some more, leaving Daisy and the man alone. They start to talk, learning about each other, and a bond develops between them. The man reveals he’s also expecting another set of killers to pay him a visit as he’s stolen from their boss as well. They’re part of a rival organisation and when they arrive at the man’s apartment, Daisy stalls them long enough for Violet to return and kill them. Learning more about the man, and discovering he has terminal cancer, Violet once more leaves the flat to re-stock their arsenal, still determined to carry out their mission. The man tells Daisy about his daughter, April (Maslany), and his regret over the way his relationship with her has deteriorated. As it becomes increasingly clear that the man has engineered his death by stealing from Chet and his rival, it’s down to the two girls to decide if this is one hit that shouldn’t be carried out.
The feature debut of the screenwriter of Precious (2009), Violet & Daisy is a singularly adventurous movie that does its best to wrong foot its audience throughout, and maintains a quirky, offbeat charm through its sometimes whimsical script and its trio of lead performances. The set up is intriguing, and provides a lot of laughs as Violet and Daisy try and get the measure of a man who isn’t afraid of them, or the fact that they’re there to kill him. While their confidence doesn’t quite desert them, it is undermined by the man’s calmness, and how nicely he treats them. It’s fun to see the pair heading off to another room (while remaining in earshot) in an effort to decide what to do, their experience counting for little in the face of such cooperation and concern for them as individuals.
This basic premise is fleshed out by the inclusion of the rival killers and the history that Violet has with them, as well as a nosy neighbour, Dolores (Gravatt), and the threat of Chet’s number one assassin (Jean-Baptiste) lurking outside the building (to take out the man or Violet and Daisy is never clear). The girls’ relationship is explored as well, giving both actresses the chance to provide strong, compelling performances that highlight the disparity between the girls’ feelings about the way their mission has gone awry. Ronan is superb as always, Daisy’s somewhat gauche behaviour during the early part of the movie giving way to a measured, more emotional response to the situation, her growing liking for the man giving her a confidence that she didn’t have before. As the initially controlling Violet, Bledel has the more obviously showy role but as the movie progresses, she shows the vulnerability beneath the confidence, and while it would be taking it too far to say their roles are reversed, by the end there’s a balance that actually compromises their working relationship. And Gandolfini is as artless and affecting as ever, imbuing his character with a quiet determination that perfectly illustrates his need to give meaning to the end of his life.
Fletcher organises his cast and the material with a poise and assurance that belies the fact this is his first director’s credit, and the movie’s mix of violence, black humour and indie drama makes Violet & Daisy a real pleasure to watch. With top-notch performances, and an unshowy, yet deadpan approach to the situation, Fletcher creates a winning crime drama that has a strong visual approach and features equally strong performances. The references to the singer Barbie Sunday are probably the movie’s main weakness, giving Violet and Daisy a fairly spurious reason for taking on the job in the first place, and there are a few moments where the humour does a disservice to the drama it’s meant to offset. But these are minor issues, and don’t hinder the movie at all.
Rating: 8/10 – an underrated gem, Violet & Daisy has lots to offer, and rewards the viewer from start to finish; Ronan and Bledel make a great team, and the movie’s indie sensibility means it provides a fresh take on what could have been a much more straightforward and predictable tale.