Michael Smiley did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Gal in Kill List.
Michael Smiley is an actor who I must admit I knew best, before watching this film, as the manic bike messenger from Spaced. Well he's quite a bit more understated here in his scruffier, David Wilmotesque appearance. I must admit I forgot his Spaced connection rather quickly while watching this film which begins by depicting a man and his damaged relationship with his wife. This man is Jay played by Neil Maskell, and Smiley is really the secondary lead, bordering very closely on supporting, as Gal, Jay's old army buddy. Now Maskell's performance is one of constant, though understandably so, intensity. It does not make Jay a particularly likable or relatable sort, luckily there is Smiley to pick up the slack. Smiley is not just a breath of fresh but really any air in the film, considering how suffocating Jay's viciousness can be to witness. Smiley brings a needed low key charm about Gal who we first see trying to be a true friend to Jay just in a dinner party between friends.
Smiley and Maskell strike up the needed chemistry between the two men. Their interactions always have the comfort between two men that have been friends for a long time. There is that natural ease between the two as they make the friendship feel genuine. There is something perhaps even more important there between the two of them in is a level of understanding that shows that they all have been through a lot together as well. Smiley is particularly good in his portrayal of Gal's reactions towards Jay as in his eyes. There is always the present understanding that he knows what afflicts the man, having gone through it himself, even though he is not controlled by it in the same way. Smiley's work though still has Gal carry a similar pain. Smiley presents Gal as someone far more able to cope with the past as it is part of his being, there is a certain dread in him that reveals that pain. Smiley though shows the distinct control Gal has over it which is never the case for Jay.
Smiley allows for the one endearing character in the film, even though Gal is also a hitman, due to the way he establishes the fairly laid back and earnest attitude of the character. There is a very good moment early on in the film, while Jay and his wife are fighting, where Gal takes their son away from yelling to his room. Smiley's wonderful in bringing such a warmth as he comforts the boy while portraying a so well a very genuine concern for Jay and his family. After the dinner scene the film then depicts the two going off on the titular kill list. The two go about eliminating the various targets on the list, but with each target Jay uses increasingly brutal methods to murder the men. Smiley's performance grounds these scenes and keeps them from merely being indulgent moments of graphic violence. Smiley portrays Gal also going through with the murders, though as a straight professional, which is technically chilling its own right. Smiley however manages to bring a degree of poignancy by depicting Gal's unease at Jay's behavior and his own frustration as Jay only becomes worse with each new kill. Of course any build up in terms of Smiley's work or Maskell's work ends up being for nought by the film's hard shift into the world of a human sacrificing cult. Smiley I suppose still aids the film best he can by attempting to ground the final act in real terror, though the whole thing is a bit too ridiculous for him to succeed entirely. It is also unfortunate that the final twist overwhelms all else, and that's all the film ends up being about. Smiley's portrayal of the sympathetic hitman remains a highlight of the film despite the film sort of wasting what he brought to the role through its last act.