Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Film Analysis: Hot Fuzz

This will be the first in what I hopefully will make a long series of – let’s call them analytical film reviews. I’m beginning in a strange place. It would probably be a stronger opening if the first review I offered was either something that could be called classic or something current, whether now playing or just released on disc. But I intend to do these for just whatever I happen to be watching, and I am, for better or worse, starting the project now, rather than, say, after watching for the first time Fritz Lang’s “M” a couple of months ago. I can’t afford a ticket to a movie theater, either, so we’re stuck with the last film I returned to Netflix, which was the Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg action-comedy “Hot Fuzz.” Of course, as evidenced by the earlier “Shaun of the Dead,” the people responsible for this film take their comedy seriously, so it is by no means without content upon which to comment. Nor is it without personal significance to me as a starting point for this aspect of my blog.

A definite part of the reason why I’m starting this now, in spite of having meant to for numerous weeks prior, is that my cohabiting relationship has just ended, and my now ex-girlfriend has left me with much time and space to use to think, and write, and entertain myself, and perhaps do all of these together. I am determined to be personally productive now that my environment has been abruptly rattled. But this relationship is an upsetting loss, having been unusual, transformative, and of quite a long duration. The sort of odd significance of “Hot Fuzz” being the subject of my first analysis is twofold: Firstly, the major reason I’d chosen to watch it was that I knew my girlfriend was under serious stress, and the mood of the household in the last week or two before she left was dour, so I thought we were in need of a dose of comedy. Secondly, the film was released in the spring of 2007, just before she and I met and fell in love, hence it being in the Netflix queue that she and I had been sharing. There’s this weird sense of serendipity, then, in the fact that it is the first movie I’ve watched on my own since the very time it was released. Perhaps I’m making too much of it, but then I make too much of most things; that’s why I find it would be a worthwhile project to analyze films like this.

Even if I had watched “Hot Fuzz” while alone, heartsick, and overly reflective, it may not have exactly been the thing to lighten the local mood. I found it to be quite different from what I had expected, in that it by and large worked better where it presented itself as a thriller than where it was a comedy. It is a rather darker movie than I anticipated, a fact which I noticed straightaway. The atmosphere is too heavy for boisterous laughter. That is not to say that it isn’t funny, but most of the humor is subtle, and had me nodding inwardly rather than laughing out loud. The rest seems like comic relief, meant to stand in contrast to a plot that is driven by death and mystery.

While so much of the humor is subtle, much of the thematic content is not. As with “Shaun of the Dead,” which utilized common, almost cliché elements of the zombie horror sub-genre, and actually made them more explicit, “Hot Fuzz” draws on another cliché in horror: the idyllic small town with dark, deeply hidden secrets. However, by the end, after the plot makes a series of sharp turns towards increasing absurdity, there is nothing that is not in the open. While that probably sounds like criticism, the absurdity is clearly both intentional and useful, allowing the action-packed climax of the film to be perhaps the only segment that really is uproariously funny. In that sense, the film is quite well structured, though on the other hand, the variety of false-leads and subplots that lead the audience to the satisfaction of witnessing a shootout between two cops and a dozen sexagenarians can make the whole thing feel a little cluttered.

Along the way, it is probably easy to lose sight of some of the less direct thematic statements that the story makes. As I said, though, much of it is perfectly obvious. By the time the Neighborhood Watch Alliance is revealed as a cabal of secretive, black-cloaked manipulators of local events, there is no mistaking the criticism of suburban and rural lifestyles in all their potential to commit a person to the acceptance or active pursuit of an illusion. But the film overall is just a bit more cynical, or else more even-handed, than all that. If one keeps the entirety of the story in mind, he can see the way the criticism extends to urban life, as well. Two things are of clear significance in leading one to that conclusion. First, the story begins with Pegg’s character, officer Angel, being forced out of London by the entirety of the police force because they don’t want his excellence as an officer making the rest of them look bad. Then, in the end, the same officers request that he return, having discovered that his departure did not preserve the status quo, but rather interrupted it, in that the crime rate increased without him, but Angel determines to stay, saying that he likes it in Sandford. This is not what one would expect, given his evident boredom during his time there. To my thinking, after his victorious battle with the town elders, Angel decides that the small town is well worth staying in, after all, likely because its cultural landscape is more changeable than that of the big city. There is no greater reason to return to London, because the powerful residents of both places are given to the same human impulses toward manipulation in favor of a perverted concept of the common good. What differs is only the method. In a small town, the locals remain entrenched in fear of what harm a thing might do, whereas in the city, the good of a thing might be recognized, but it may still be rejected, whether because of shame or for the sake of political efficacy. That is, the problem with the city is built into its fabric, but the problem of the small town is a problem of perspective, which is more easily rectified.

If the thematic conflict of the story is not the conflict of city versus suburb, then the climactic battle is all that much more significant in crystallizing the overall theme, which is focused instead on generational conflict. It then makes surprisingly much sense that the relatively young main characters do battle with an army of villains who are significantly older. The conflict of the story represents the potential for a more educated, tolerant generation to supplant the entrenched, often wrong-headed ideologies of the one that preceded them. The final resolution of the gunfight, after the chase scene, taking place in a scale model of the town, squarely places the characters of Pegg and Timothy Dalton – the latter practically being an emissary of older action films – as two giants, representing opposite ideologies, the progressive and the regressive, fighting over the very soul of the town. And as if to make it more clear that the future is determined by the outcome, the film places a solitary child in the middle of that struggle, with the potential to be made a victim or a thing to be protected. But because the conflict is generational, the child is not merely a prop. He participates briefly in the fight, and it may even be a plaything of his that ultimately fells the regressive force.

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