19th May2013

‘Handgun’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Karen Young, Clayton Day, Suzie Humphreys, Helena Humann, Ben Jones | Written and Directed by Tony Garrett


With one broken relationship still fresh in her mind, Kathleen Sullivan (Young) is in no mood to take on a new boyfriend. Larry (Day) however will not tolerate sexual rebuffs; rape is his means of exercising what he regards as a male prerogative. Consumed by anger and hungry for vengeance, Kathleen now finds she must take matters into her own hands.

The film debut of Karen Young, who would later go on to star in Birdy, Daylight and The Sopranos, is an uncompromising look at America’s hand gun culture through the eyes of a school teacher coming to terms with being raped. Helmed by British director Tony Garnett in the heart of Texas using a mix of actors and local people, Handgun is unlike any other rape/revenge thriller that has come before or since…

This very stylised look at American gun culture comes from writer/director Garnett – who was a part of the radical “kitchen-sink” drama movement on British television in the 1960s and ’70s, producing classics such as Kes, Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home – who avoids falling into Death Wish/I Spit On Your Grave territory through a matter-of-fact, documentary-style (without the clinical edge typically associated with the genre), directorial approach. It’s this cinema-verite style that gives Handgun a gravitas over and above it’s exploitation counterparts.

And whilst Handgun does contain some of the tropes of the rape/revenge exploitation genre, the film is less interested in the revenge that it is in presenting a character study of a woman broken both physically and mentally and what it takes for her to regain some “control” over her life. Garnett spends a good portion of the film introducing us to the meek and mild Kathleen before she goes through her ordeal so that we may feel more for her character when the unthinkable does happen. Then Garnett spends even more time showing the transformation of Kathleen from timid teacher to gun-toting killer.

And all the while Karen Young gives a mesmerizing, tour-de-force performance – holding back at the right time, conveying emotion without ever externalising her feelings;  going through a physical change (and not only in appearance) so that we believe she has made the transition to hardened killer – it’s a stunning debut and shows why Young has kept working steadily ever since.

This DVD of Handgun, released by Network releasing as part of their ‘The British Film’ strand also features an archive interview with Tony Garnett and original theatrical trailers for the film. It is also the first time the film has been presented in it’s correct cinema aspect ratio in the UK.

An essential purchase for revenge film lovers and lovers of good cinema alike, Handgun is released on May 20th.


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