This review was originally posted on Andrew’s blog I Can’t Get Laid in This Town
Part of me actually toyed with talking about the social and political ideologies at the heart of Hobo With a Shotgun. In many ways, Jason Eisner’s film is about how Canadian and American societies choose to view the lower classes and the exploitation of the disenfranchised. The film is almost Shakespearean in scope, in a way that not too many people will be able to fully recognize or appreciate. The script is smarter than your average exploitation fare (if you stop to recognize such things) and the lead performance of Rutger Hauer as the titular hobo who speaks softly and carries a big stick is the kind of thing that would play great on stage.
But chances are, if you are going to see a film like Hobo with a Shotgun, you are not going to care in the slightest about any of that. Every time my brain was about to make a connection to something I read about, a bot of film theory, or anything I learned in university, the film pistol whipped me and told me to stop being such a pussy. If I tried reading too much into it, I might have missed a film that is deeply entertaining.
Our hero is a transient who rolls into a truly God forsaken town. This is a town with absolutely no redeeming qualities, run by a madman named The Drake (played with vicious aplomb by Brian Downey) who treats shakedowns and public humiliation in the vein of a game show host. The Drake is aided by his two sons, Slick and Ivan who both look a lot like the lead singer of Cobra Starship and thus have to been seen as total douches even before they senselessly murder a school bus full of children with a flame thrower. Like many films of this ilk, the police are all in on the fix and ordinary people are forced to live their lives in a culture of constant fear. One day, the hobo becomes a vigilante enforcer dispensing justice one shell at a time with the arms length help of a hooker with a heart of gold (Molly Dunsworth, playing such a role with a real sense of wonder and fun that serves her well once her character starts getting put through absolute torture).
Eisner and Hauer both seem to know that in order to create a truly effective exploitation film that the lead character must be played totally straight. The hobo is never made out to be the punchline to any easy jokes in any direct fashion. The film makes him out to be sympathetic to the audience even before any sort of injustice befalls him or anyone around him. Hauer plays the hobo as someone who has seen everything in life; the world weary eyes and a perfectly groomed sense of not caring about how the world perceives him are spot on. It is exactly the kind of performance this sort of film demands and Hauer knocks it out of the park, showcasing his best work in years.
To say that Hobo with a Shotgun is not a film for those with delicate sensibilities or the easily offended is an understatement. There were things in this film that I know offended me, but what Eisner does so brilliantly is that he eases newcomers into that sense of violent anarchy that the best exploitation films have. Eisner sets a tone early on and creates an entire universe based around that tone while gently ratcheting the tension up with every sequence. The stakes are constantly being raised despite the film acting more cartoonish as it goes on. The twisted sense of humour fits this film well and it adds to the audience never fully knowing just where the film will go. It would make for a great double bill with the similarly toned and criminally overlooked Running Scared.
Hobo with a Shotgun is not a movie for everyone and it never once tries to be. It also never aspires to be some form of higher art. Based on one of the fake trailers from the film Grindhouse, it manages to best anything that has been released related to that film. This film is a dirty, nightmarish experience about one man’s journey through hell and back. It does exactly what it sets out to do and for that I am thankful it even got made.