At this time of year it’s easy to forget that not everybody celebrates Christmas. This could be due to your cultural or religious identity. It might be due to your personal circumstances. You might, like me, be a miserable sod who hates false bonhomie, targeted marketing and the ‘Buy! Buy! Buy!’ advertising which infests many Western cultures from November 1st until the end of the year.
It’s inevitable that many of us will lock horns with Christmas at some point of the season, and to mitigate the annoyance which the Festive Season so often brings with it, I thought that I’d recommend some movies for you to escape into which don’t have much in the way of holiday cheer.
When it comes to movies which subvert the holidays and provide succour for the godless, Shane Black is very often my go-to guy.
In the 1990’s, he was the proverbial Hot Hollywood Screenwriter, with credits which included “The Last Boy Scout” and “The Long Kiss Goodnight”. If you’re saying to yourself, “But Fluffrick, both of those movies were set at Christmas and used the Festive Season’s tropes subversively in an ironic counterpoint to Black’s clearly more cynical point of view on said cultural touchstones”, then gift yourself an iTunes download because you’re wholly correct.
Shane Black doesn’t like Christmas very much. He doesn’t care for happy endings especially. What he does like is down-and-out heroes achieving some form of personal redemption and foiling some awful plot against a backdrop of tinsel, reindeer and neo-noir grimness.
In “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”, Black’s directorial debut, he weaves a complicated and eccentric tale of pulp crime novels, petty criminals, Hollywood royalty, Gay private eyes, Robocop knock offs and omniscient voice overs and delivers a fantastic, downbeat movie with very little in the way of Jolly Old St Nick and rather more in the way of corrupt Tinseltown players corrupting absolutely everything that they touch.
Robert Downey Jnr is glorious in it – he’s a wiry, too smart for his own good petty crook who accidentally gets to fly out to Hollywood to audition for a film role and find himself enmeshed in murder and a mystery from his past. He’s more than ably matched by Val Kilmer, whose wit and charm in this film really makes you wish that he’d segue into character parts as his apparent real life eccentricity more would make him a shoe-in for indie fare.
The Los Angeles depicted in this film is largely predicated around the fringes of stardom and the hidden hands which expertly drive the entertainment business from without and hide its worst excesses from disapproving public view. The sense that you get from this film is that Hollywood is clearly a place that you wouldn’t want to spend too much time in – if you don’t have a service to offer than be commoditized or exploited then you won’t last very long.
Downey’s character, Harry, is a disruptive influence in this all this. He didn’t plan on being an actor, doesn’t quite know what he’s going to do with the opportunity and is compelled to forget all about it when Hollywood politics inject and the larger mystery of his childhood friend Faith (Michelle Monaghan) and her labyrinthine familial issues presents itself and drives the plot forwards and sideways- ultimately, this is a ”sins of the fathers” story, but the choices and presentation distinguishes it and saves it from being just another tale of murder in high society.
So, we’ve got a fantastic cast, keen intelligence wielded lightly, a great sense of place, a winning mix of hearty chuckles, measured cynicism and bone-crunching violence, a plot which contrasts the optimism and shining lights of the holiday season with the broken lives and dimming aspirations of the Hollywood Party Set. It’s a finely detailed and often non-linear take on the crime genre, which respects its audience to have their wits about them and follow Black as he weaves his tall tale.
Sure, there are some issues to take into account – Downey Jnr and Michelle Monaghan as high school sweeties back in the day. Sure… – and a sense that Kilmer’s character being gay is a neat way to chuck in the odd homophobic barb that he can casually swat away – but the overall picture is a splendid way to spend a couple of hours.
Put it on your (Not) Christmas list – you’ll be glad that you did.