Tuesday 11 June 2013

Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

Rutger Hauer is a Hobo.
If it had been a UK film, I hope it would have starred Bernard Cribbins.
So, there's a hobo, and he has a shotgun.  The title is the pitch, and the film delivers pretty much what you'd expect or hope for.  A nameless, homeless man happens on a crude weapon, and engages on a fabulously violent campaign of homicide.  He's the hero, by the way, or else the concept would be terrifying.

The hobo rides into Hope Town in an empty luggage compartment of a freight train, and finds the conurbation to be a nest of iniquity and sudden death.  Fights and muggings go wholly unchallenged, almost unnoticed in the colourfully graffitied streets.  At the top of the town is the Drake (Brian Downey), who keeps the people in thrall with flamboyantly public murders of the most sensational varieties.  His sons Ivan and Slick pick off their victims almost recreationally, using dodgems to smash open their heads like watermelons.  Says the Drake: 'when life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball-bat covered with razor-blades.'  It's a mantra to live by.

The Drake, about to decapitate his brother.
Isn't it magnificently colourful!
Crowds guzzle spilt cocaine.  The people have long-since learnt to ignore cries for help, and let aggressors commit their murders uninterrupted.  Half-clad women dance in the spurting blood.  Since the cops have found complicity to be both lucrative and enjoyable, the victims have no champion and no hope.  The hobo is disgusted by all he sees, and circumstances eventually, eventually, provide him with a shotgun.  So he goes on a rampage of justice, and everybody deserves what they get.

It has something of the flavour of a Western, with a nameless stranger riding into a town in the middle of nowhere and straightening out the streets.  It put me in mind of 'High Plains Drifter' (1973), though there are probably many closer to this format.  This is all the better, though, for its modern setting, its familiar looks.  Any modern city could become Hope Town remarkably easily.  The look of the place is thrilling: everything is so colourful that the graffiti and trash seem beautiful, not dirty, and the blood seems appropriate decoration.

I love that someone's actually graffitied the word 'feces'.
It's the plural of 'fez', you know.
I was rather wary of watching 'Hobo With a Shotgun', for two reasons.  Firstly, I was concerned that a film so-titled might be as ironic and as wilfully awful as 'Snakes On a Plane' (2006).  To my relief, this was a work of merit, delighting in its schlock but never using it as an excuse.  Secondly, it looked to be distressingly violent.  Now, I've seen, and regretted seeing, some nauseating films which revelled in their characters' pain and sought to horrify their audiences with long scenes of torture and maiming.  'Hobo With a Shotgun' isn't that sort of thing at all.  Pain isn't lingered on, and the deaths are, while unpleasant, spectacular.  It's too stylised and too positive in message to give many nightmares.

There's a charm to it: a feeling that good can prosper, and villains might eventually be brought low.  The hobo isn't a violent man; he's a simple one with an innocent dream: all he wants is to own a lawnmower and use it to find work as a gardener.  His rampage against crime is just a step towards that dream, and an act to protect Abby (Molly Dunsworth), the young prostitute with whom he finds a tender friendship, and who dreams of going to the zoo to see the bears.

Don't worry - it isn't her own blood.
It's attractively directed, and the pictures are all striking.  Rutger Hauer gives a magnificent performance as the hobo, at one point giving a masterclass in eye-acting through a slit in a coffin.  The film's world is believable, beautifully stylised and intriguingly layered, as the eighties-tinged modernity of the town eventually opens up to show something more mysterious, more ancient, as the Drake calls forth The Plague.  This pair of mute knights are seen only briefly, and seem to hint at a long, long history of pestilence and butchery.  Their mediaeval stylings never jar with the rest of the film, and their faceless armour seems well-placed alongside the school-buses and monochrome varsity jackets of the modern American continent.  They expand what could have been a crude morality play, leaving something more mysterious, not restricted to a single time and place.

Despite my initial reservations, I'm glad I saw this film.  It's not so horrible as I feared, and while I would hesitate to show it to an infant, I think it's far less distressing and damaging than, say, 'The Death of Pencilton' (2011), or 'Na Srebrnym Globie' (1977), or  'The Snowman' (1982).

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