Last year, a few days before the holiday I love to refer to as MoneyMas, I finally had the chance to partake in a film that I had been wanting to see for pretty much the entirety of the year. Unlike a lot of slick, A-grade productions, Hobo With A Shotgun makes no promises, false or otherwise, about what it contains. It is about a hobo who, upon finding himself in a town so corrupt that the National Guard should be there en masse, buys a shotgun and goes about killing every example of corruption and injustice he can find.
Let me put it this way. You know a film is a keeper when, less than ten minutes in, a man’s head is severed and creates a geyser of blood in which a woman wearing a bikini and a fur coat decides to start writhing around. Yes, it is that kind of film.
In order to understand what makes Hobo With A Shotgun so awesome, it is important to understand the relationship between a protagonist and his antagonist or antagonists. If either of these two groups is not doing their job properly, it severely hampers the other. The titular hobo in Hobo With A Shotgun suffers not from this problem. The ridiculousness of the story and how it is told, on the other hand…
There are three main antagonists in Hobo With A Shotgun. The eldest and most powerful of the three is an ageing mob boss who calls himself The Drake (Brian Downey). The Drake has two sons. The smaller and more intelligent of the two is a sleazy, psychotic little asshole who answers to the name Slick (Gregory Smith). The bigger and more classically stupid of the two is called Ivan (Nick Bateman). Together, they have such an incredibly dysfunctional relationship that when Slick goes to the Drake for advice on how to handle the Hobo, the stock saying that the Drake resorts to is “when life gives you razor blades, you make a baseball bat… with razor blades!”. (People who are unable to tell when I am being literal or not, please take note: I do not mean that the Drake dismisses Slick with just a catchphrase. Only that this statement about making a bat with razor blades is the climax of what has already been a most disturbing discussion.)
So far, you may have gained the impression that Hobo With A Shotgun is like RoboCop with even less subtlety or restraint.
If it were not for the falling out that Rutger Hauer had with Paul Verhoeven during production of Flesh + Blood, it is entirely possible that Hauer might have been considered for the part of RoboCop. I say considered because Hauer was probably too big for the suit (if you look at the man the part ended up going to, you can see he is rather thin). Having said all of that, Hauer plays the hobo with a gravitas that all superheroes great and small work better with. In fact, whilst the entire rest of the cast with the exception of Molly Dunsworth seems to think that they are in an intentional comedy, Hauer plays his role with such seriousness that it is almost like he is in a different film. Smith‘s and Bateman‘s performances are understandable in this respect. Their characters are meant to make the viewer believe that they were raised on a diet of caffeine and cocaine. Brian Downey‘s performance walks a very drunken line between these two extremes. But everyone else on the set who is not headlining, especially those who play policemen, seem to have only been on the set whilst Smith and Bateman were for the most part, and took that as a sign of the kind of performance that was expected.
In fact, Hauer gets a speech during the setup for the final act of Hobo With A Shotgun that rivals his speech at the end of Blade Runner. I will not spoil it for you here, except to say that it something symbolic of what is wrong with the society we live in nowadays. No matter what happens in the here and now, or who happens to be right or wrong, it is the children, especially the present-day newborns, who usually end up paying the price in the future.
In many countries, especially ones as messed up in terms of caring for its most vulnerable as Australia, things like disability care have become a cruel, twisted lottery. How one acquires a disability, along with where they acquired it, literally determines the level of help one gets. If one is injured during work and finds themselves unable to continue working as a result, the usual result is a pittance of compensation that, whilst hardly what one can consider sufficient for living, is at least a step above a poke in the eye with a blunt stick. If you were born with what I like to refer to as a reversion disability, on the other hand, you are basically ignored and nature is allowed to take its course. In films like Hobo With A Shotgun, storytellers have begun to comment on how unfair this setup really is. Knowing what went wrong is hardly comforting when you are explicitly disallowed from changing things to go right.
A key problem that all storytellers deal with is knowing when to quit. Using RoboCop as an example again, there was a bit of internal debate among the decision-makers about how the film should end. Among the endings being considered was a further Mediabreak interlude in which we are told the “fate” of the Lewis character. But at test screenings, the makers noticed a tendency of audiences to respond to the Old Man’s question concerning the name of the titular hero by cheering out “Murphy!” in time with Peter Weller‘s statement of same. Hobo With A Shotgun runs on a similar economy of storytelling. At a scant eighty-six minutes in length, Hobo With A Shotgun wastes no time in getting its main story points across. Unlike a lot of films from people I will not glorify by mentioning here, it does not make any attempt to seem more clever than it is. It simply tries to tell us a story about people in or creating a horrible situation and how they deal with it.
Hobo With A Shotgun did not make fantastic amounts of money at the box office. In fact, in spite of the fact that it was shot cheaply, whether it will make back its costs on the home video or cable television circuits is a matter for debate. The ending also rules out the possibility of direct sequels, although you never know in Hollywood. What I do know for sure is that if you have not already seen Hobo With A Shotgun, you should do so. Even if you do not get (leave alone grok) it, it will open your eyes to a whole new aspect of audio-visual art.
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