Short Film Wednesday - Six Shooter
When life gets in the way, yet you still want to continue your film education, here is a short film that you can slip in during a spare moment of the day.
There are a lot of directors who wish they could do what Martin McDonagh does well - produce pitch black comedies that get genuine laughs. Often the products of such endeavors tend to be either too dark (Birdman) or too broad (Deadpool). I think McDonagh’s strength is that he is brave enough to make characters unlikable, extremely unlikable, yet he trusts us to see their humanity buried within their flaws.
I think McDonagh’s not-so-secret weapon is Brendan Gleeson. Actually, Gleeson is every director’s not-so-secret weapon. If a film he’s in doesn’t work, he’s never the reason for its not working. In this short, Gleeson plays a grieving widower who has been informed that his wife has died earlier the day that he visits. He gets rushed unceremoniously from the premises when the doctor tells him he needs to attend to two cot deaths and a woman whose head has been blown almost completely off. On the way back home on the train, he encounters a profane, impish young man (Ruiadhri Conroy) who can’t help provoke Gleeson and some bystanders with tasteless jokes and profanity.
Even as the events on the train get darker and more twisted, Gleeson is the weary, yet stable center. Most characters would have taken Conroy’s task far earlier in this film, and in fact some characters do, but Gleeson is either too tired or he understands instinctively that something is wrong with this kid that could only be mollified with an attentive ear. Despite McDonagh’s notoriety for his use of violence, he actually shows a considerable amount of restraint from continuing with some obvious plot, and Gleeson’s gentle yet nuanced performance is the key.
Gleeson’s presence is also why I think this short and In Bruges are McDonagh’s best films. In Seven Psychopaths and Three Billboards, there are no sympathetic characters to ground the whole movie. Everyone is an extreme type of some sort, which makes the whole movie too nihilistic and cynical. I understand why that could be someone’s cup of spiky tea even if it’s not mine, but I don’t think it works in Three Billboards, in which McDonagh is clearly trying to comment on race and racism. There are a many problems with that film, not the least of which is that there are no major Black characters that appear for more than a few scenes in that film, but even if that had weirdly been McDonagh’s intention, I think he fell into the Tarantino trap of making all his major characters equally extreme. Not everyone can hire Brendan Gleeson for his or her movie, but you can strive to have at least one character be the sounding board for everyone else’s insanity.