Humor and violence have always had an odd symbiotic relationship. Be it was Buster Keaton narrowly avoiding catastrophe or Larry, Moe, and Curly gleefully gouging each other’s eyes out, we seem to have a primal enjoyment for brutality. If the violence from old Looney Toon and Tom & Jerry cartoons were brought into reality, it would likely end up as an R-rated bloodbath, which pretty much sums up Ben Wheatley’s latest film.
It’s a dark night in the late 70’s when a truly oddball assembly of screw-ups gather in at an abandoned factory in Boston. An introduction that feels longer than it should, goes down the roster, briefly explaining who each character is. It’s difficult to remember names, and more so to understand where each of their loyalties lie, but thankfully, these are caricatures which we can easily identify by their broadly painted personalities. There’s the arrogant American weapons broker, “Ord” (Armie Hammer). The beautiful bird, “Justine”(Brie Larson). An immature hothead addict, “Stevo” (Sam Riley). The IRA militant, “Chris” (Cillian Murphy). The cool-headed African American, “Martin” (Babou Ceesay). And the South African misdiagnosed child genius, “Vernon” (Sharlto Copley)
This is but a sampling of the miscreants that have come together for a gun trade on this fateful night. The tension quickly ratchets up as the low IQs and high tempers begin to clash. A few level heads try and keep things under control, but the audience knows, eventually, someone will do something that will cross the point of no return. Once that happens, the remaining hour of the film shoots by as off-the-cuff insults fill the silence between gunfire and loyalties change as often as their clips.
The plot is about as simple as it comes, literally a bunch of people in a room trying to kill each other for an hour. The charm comes from the great dialogue and adolescent violence. Also adding the enjoyment is an absolutely brilliant sound mix which, if you’re into that kind of thing, is almost worth the price of admission alone. The various firearms all sound very distinct and it’s fun to hear the shots and ricochets bouncing around the theater.
The movie isn’t without its flaws, but this isn’t exactly high-brow art-house fare we’re discussing. Early attempts to lay out the area for the audience aren’t exactly successful. With this kind of film, it is extremely important that the viewer understands who is located where in relationship to each other. Far too often, we lose track of where characters are and wonder who is shooting at whom. Even near the end, when we are finally becoming accustomed to the floorplan, a character will suddenly appear in a hallway or against a mural which seems detached from the rooms we are familiar with. It’s also a bit hard to swallow the violence when it finally reaches a lethal level after we’ve been laughing at the ridiculous number of “Flesh wounds” that have preceded it. (“Tis but a scratch!”)
If you’re looking for some mindless dark humor and have no shame in publically laughing over bloodshed, then this live-action cartoon for adults is likely just what the doctor ordered.