by Bill Gallagher
I have seen the future of watching movies, and it costs a penny less than $2.
You could hold a cocked pistol to my dog’s head and I couldn’t name any other film that
won the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short, much less tell you that I’ve ever
seen one. But I’ve been watching the winner of this year’s Oscar in that category for the
last week or so on my computer monitor. And it only cost me $1.99. Not only that, my
son’s been showing it to his pals on his iPod.
I wasn’t sure when I’d ever get a chance to see Martin McDonagh’s “Six Shooter.” It was
screened at the San Francisco Irish Film Festival in March, but it’s a longshot for this
short film to be shown on the big screen here in Portland any time soon. So when I read
that it could be downloaded from iTunes, I got over my reluctance to watch movies on
my computer real quick.
Not only is it cheap, fast, easy, and convenient to watch it this way, it’s a rare opportunity
to see the work of a playwright who’s won all sorts of honors for his work in London and
New York. Those plays are funny, profane, violent, and uneven at times, according to
what I’ve read. But I’ve only been able to read about McDonagh’s madness. I haven’t
been able to see for myself what the critics and crowds find so entertaining. But now I’ve
got his first film right where I want it: on my hard drive.
“Six Shooter” takes place almost entirely on a train in Ireland. Donnelly, a grieving
widower played by the always-excellent Brendan Gleeson (“Gangs of New York,” “28
Days Later,” “Cold Mountain”), is returning to Dublin from the hospital where his wife
just died. He finds a seat across from a young man called merely “Kid,” played by
Ruaidhri Conroy. Kid is a real piece of work. He’s brash and boorish and can’t get a
sentence out without using a certain gerund that starts with f. But he’s also got a comic
charm that disarms Donnelly.
When a couple gets on the train and takes a seat across the aisle, Kid notices that they’re
very sad. So he begins to taunt them. Informed by Donnelly that they’re mourning the
death of their baby boy, Kid asks him quite sincerely, “Did they kill him?” That’s the
kind of kid Kid is. He makes Bart Simpson seem shy and reserved. Reassured that the
infant died of crib death, Kid expresses doubt. “I’m surprised moms and dads don’t kill
their kids more often,” he says.
What planet is Kid from? I can’t remember ever coming across a more irreverent,
insensitive, unrestrained post-adolescent male. But he’s really funny to listen to. This
combination of the repulsive and the irresistible must be why Martin McDonagh has had
so much success with material so reckless. By this time if the language hasn’t put you off,
“Six Shooter” takes a violent turn that will make you squirm. Yet Kid is unfazed. When
Donnelly accuses him of having “no respect for the dead,” Kid defends himself, saying, “My ma got murdered last night.” Donnelly expresses condolences. Kid responds, “She
wasn’t the most pleasant of women and, sure, life goes on.”
Again, what planet are we on? Is this the way people raised in the west of Ireland handle
grief? I suspect the isolated landscape where McDonagh spent his summers (Connemara
and Sligo) has something to do with the leer that goes along with Kid’s laughter. I’ve
spent some time in that part of Ireland, time enough to pick up on the wary relationship
the locals have with culture’s conventions. Kid is extreme in his insensitivity. (“Is that
your dead kid?” he asks with a smile of the grieving mom on the train as she holds on to a
snap shot of a chubby little baby boy.) So when we laugh, there’s more shock than mirth.
We feel a tad bit guilty for finding anything funny about the situation. It’s like you’ve got
to remind yourself this is just a farce and give yourself permission to laugh at the
absurdity of Kid’s cruelty.
By the time Donnelly is set to get off the train, there’s been more death to deal with and
McDonagh isn’t even done yet. This being his first film and the fact that it lasts only 28
minutes, “Six Shooter” may not be a true representation of how he’d do with a feature-
length film. But I’ve got to believe he’s got a future.
His character development is precise and concise. We know within a scene or two what
kind of man Donnelly is—decent and kind—but also capable of a bizarre gesture like
laying a picture of a pet rabbit named David atop the rosary beads laced through his dead
wife’s hands. And Kid, it becomes clear quite quickly, is the type of character you know
you shouldn’t be drawn to...but can’t resist. That Gleeson would lend his presence to this
project speaks volumes about McDonagh’s potential in film. And Ruaidhri (don’t ask me
how to pronounce it) Conroy is quite the find as an actor. Right through the jaw-dropping
climax, he’s delightfully depraved.
Before his film debut as director and writer of “Six Shooter,” McDonagh told
interviewers his influences were not any other playwrights but the American movie
directors Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Terrence Malick, and David Lynch. I’d
wager he’ll someday take his place alongside these men but with one big advantage—
screenplays that are better written than any these men have made into movies.
McDonagh’s been praised high and low as one of the most promising playwrights to
come along in quite a while. It sounds like he’s fearless with his material when it comes
to staged violence and about as sensitive as an episode of “South Park” when it comes to
subject matter. But I can’t vouch for that, never having seen one of his plays. So “Six
Shooter” downloaded from iTunes is a small-g godsend. Not only does it give anyone
outside London or New York access to a sampling of his style, it frees us of the
middleman in the movie business, whether it be the local multiplex, art house or rental
service. (Even Netflix doesn’t have “Six Shooter.”)
At 28 minutes, its length is just about right for watching on a computer monitor. I’m not
sure I could last long enough sitting here to take in a full-fledged feature. And while my
son is satisfied with watching “Six Shooter” on a three-inch iPod screen, I say no thank you. But get this, he was able to share “Six Shooter,” the work of a major playwright,
with some other kids who were involved in a drama project at his high school. How cool
Bill Gallagher is the News Director of AM 860–KPAM, the Talk Station, and he writes
the monthly Movie Column for BrainstormNW.
BrainstormNW - May 2006