Review: ‘Hobo With a Shotgun’
Grindhouse Homage Held Over
Friday, July 1, 2011
Back in 2007, SXSW teamed up with Robert Rodriguez to put on a fake trailer competition in conjunction with the release of "Grindhouse." So Canadian filmmaker Jason Eisener gathered his friends and a real shotgun and hit the streets of his hometown of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and starting shooting. Five days and $120 later he had a fake trailer for "Hobo With a Shotgun." His film won and now, three years later, we have the feature film inspired by his fake trailer and starring Rutger Hauer.
I saw the film first from Amazon's instant downloads and got to see it on 35mm last weekend at the Ken Cinema. Wow did it look amazing on the big screen. Filmmaker Eisener saturates the film in colors that pop like fresh graffiti on a wall. There's such a visual vibrancy to the film that you can't help but feel amped up by the images on the screen. Eisener knows his grindhouse cinema too and the film calls to mind the low budget films of the 70s and 80s.
Blood flows by the gallons as Hauer plays a homeless man who grabs a shotgun and starts making some changes in a corrupt town. Or as a headline reads: "Hobo stops begging, demands change." The action is extreme, violent, and often crosses the line of good taste (like a pedophile Santa stealing children) but not without good cause. Eisener, as he did in his short "Treevenge," pushes the envelope because he needs to create a sense of anarchy where anything can happen and people are driven over the edge. (Read my interview with Eisener for more on this.) So be forewarned: bad things happen to a lot of people including children.
But Eisener pummels his audience with such energetic verve that we find ourselves begging for more. The plot is primal. A hobo sees a lot of bad things going down in a corrupt town and finally feels the need to fight back. This prompts the dirty cops and the local thugs to assault the nameless hobo, which only makes him hungrier for revenge. It's a classic tale of justice and revenge harkening back to flicks like "Billy Jack" and "Ms. 45." But while the film relies on a basic revenge formula it also throws us some unexpected curves. Like a scene involving some thugs (dressed in homemade Robocop-looking body armor) and wrangling a tentacled creature. I have no clue why that's in the film or what it's all about yet it somehow fits in with the audacious style of the film. It moves so fast and with such brazen confidence that you never bother to ask why you just feel grateful to be allowed on the rollercoaster.
The film also benefits immeasurably from Rutger Hauer. I watched "The Hitcher" right before going to the midnight show of "Hobo." What that earlier film showed was that he had an on screen charisma that was riveting and that he always knew how to underplay to great effect. As the Hobo, Hauer finds a core of humanity as well as a grizzled, over-the-top panache. Seeing those two films back-to-back also lets you see how wonderfully Hauer's face has aged and how perfectly he slips into the role. He can show kindness to a stranger and then be ruthless in the face of cruel injustice. The film is a showcase for Hauer and he gives "Hobo" just the kind of veteran skill it needs to put it over the top.
"Hobo With a Shotgun" (unrated but contains violence, sexual content, and language) is a kick-ass indie film. It proves that you don't need money to deliver a bold and wickedly fun time at the movies, just talent, imagination, and audacity. Eisener has all three and I will eagerly look forward to his next project. Although the film is low budget and defiantly grindhouse, Eisener displays some fine filmmaking skills and craftsmanship. Some may refuse to see that beneath the blood and garbage but it's there. After bashing films like "Transformers 3" and "Sucker Punch," it's great to have a film to champion... although I know this will not be to everyone's taste.
Companion viewing: "Treevenge," "Billy Jack," "Rolling Thunder"