Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hot Fuzz Day Three: Crockett and Tubby

| by Justin Thomas |

Hot Fuzz wouldn’t work if it were set in small-town Middle America because everyone and their mom packs heat and the cops are armed to the teeth to take down would-be evil doers and their moms. Here in the States, we seem to love our guns and our Second Amendment so a movie like Hot Fuzz isn’t as funny just for the setting if it were Kirksville, Missouri, and not Sandford, Gloucestershire, because it could happen in Kirksville. That’s not entirely true. Nothing fun happens in Kirksville, Missouri, but if it did, then Hot Fuzz could be set there.

Is something lost in translation by Hot Fuzz being a British movie and not an American movie? Probably. People in the know as to who British actors are love that cast – many straight reviews of the movie mention how deep the cast goes with good British actors – but most of them are lost on me. Most, but not all.

Jim Broadbent I remember from the colossal failure Gangs of New York. His Frank Butterman is akin to the juxtaposition of violent American action in a rural English village: Frank is nice almost to a fault but a murderer underneath. I’ve twice seen Paddy Considine but both were heavy dramas so his Andy Wainwright, and the timing necessary to pull him off, came as a surprise. Timothy Dalton I knew because I’m a huge Bond guy but I simply wasn’t prepared for his Simon Skinner and how he could ooze the slime necessary to pull it off. If you’ve ever wondered what the British version of William Shatner would look like, you needn’t look beyond Timothy Dalton in Hot Fuzz.

The rest of the cast? Well, I’d never be able to forget what Paul Freeman did in Raiders but without IMDB I probably wouldn’t know his name. If there is a God, I hope he’s Bill Nighy. That’s all so I have to take someone at their word when they say it’s an insane cast. As good as the supporting cast appears to be the real story is Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and their characters.

Nicholas Angel is the flip side to the Shaun coin: not only is he not a slacker, the job is all he has. When we meet him we’re told, at length, how great he is but then learn he’s lost his relationship and lives with police recruits. When he moves to Sandford, he attempts to perform his job as though it were still London, but it’s not. Then he starts to change. He and Danny find common ground after confiscating Webley’s arsenal so he concedes to a night at the pub, which leads to intoxication and an unanticipated friendship. The deeper he gets into Sandford the more faith he loses and he changes again. Early in the movie, he doesn’t drink but he deals with Leslie Tiller falling on her shears by drinking alone. He stops wearing his bullet-proof vest because the town is starting to get to him. Little visual clues to the changes happen, and when the sh*t gets real, he’s ready to turn into the super cop Danny saw him as at the beginning.

What Simon Pegg does is play Angel as he needs to with procedural correctness in the execution of proper moral authority being the only goal. It’s a narrow scope, but he pulls it off so I don’t question his focus being more on the crime scene than the final break up with Janine because I already know, through the character and performance, that’s just Angel. When he turns into super cop, his voice deepens, his lines become less complex and procedural correctness goes out the window until it’s time for the paperwork. Pegg pulls that off, too. It’s not a great performance, but it’s what Angel needs.

It’s Nick Frost who turns in the show-stopping performance of a complex character and it is, hands down, the surprise of Hot Fuzz. Everything turns on Danny. Not only does he need to be who he is – which is a loveable oaf who never gets to be an actual cop so he turns to the movies to find it and thinks it’s real – but he doesn’t lose sight of wanting to be a real cop. He’s also intelligent enough to pay attention because he says he wants to do what Angel does, which isn’t proper action and sh*t, but doing the cop grind. Then he starts doing it. Watch how Danny changes his lingo after the traffic collision when he refers to how his mom died, from which the death until that moment would have always been, “My mom died in a traffic accident.” He immediately changes it to “collision.” He flips through a police terminology book to get things right. He starts wearing a vest. He pays attention to Angel, wants to be as good a cop as Angel and has the ability to get there. The complexity comes from Danny’s need to remain true to his dad and the lie of Sandford while knowing he can’t, and he earns the moment of firing his gun into the air.

What does Frost do? He acts, I guess, because Danny certainly isn’t Ed from Shaun nor is Danny how Nick appears in interviews. He catches everything Angel says and it comes from listening, which he does well during the first night at the pub. Danny needs to have a sweet and curious way about him for it to work, and Frost can contort his face enough to make it appear as though he’s genuinely hanging on Angel’s every word. Before the showdown, when Danny sits in his car not knowing how things are going to turn out, Frost taps his fingers on the wheel and the anxiety is visible. I wouldn’t have anticipated him having an ability to turn into a man-child and have it work, but he does.

Most of the Neighborhood Watch Authority members have names that describe what they do, and it’s necessary because they don’t each have a great deal of definition. Normally I’d say that’s a problem but in this case they need to be part of a whole and we something to ground them, but it’s really about setting up all the little people just enough for Nicholas and Danny to knock them down later. It’s less about who Mr. Treacher is and what drives him, specifically to the insanity of pursing Village of the Year, but that he’s in the N.W.A. and he needs to be taken down. The N.W.A. is the plot, not the story.

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