Aside from being an avid collector of firearms, this Larry is, we’re led to conclude from the offing, a pervy ol’ varmint. From the moment he leers at a cheerleader’s scantily clad nether regions to the second warning sign in the classroom, as he makes eyes at a brazen schoolgirl, to his lusty patronage of the Foxy Boxing soiree, the audience is in no doubt as to his plans for Kathleen. Long story short: an abhorrent sequence of sexual violations are inflicted upon her at gunpoint by this bouffant-coiffed snake of a man, and after being failed by the law and just about everyone else, she is compelled to take matters into her own hands.
His other flaws apart, there are some cracking nuggets of dialogue from Larry. Try suppressing a horrified gurn during the pre-deed lechery (“I have something really special I wanna share with ya”) and, after the deed (“it’s probably your own fault for being so irresistible”). A creep of this muculent magnitude can count down his minutes of freedom on his hands and feet, right? Wrong. Nobody bats an eyelid at her story – counting against her is the fact that she was not a virgin when the crime occurred but also, more significantly, the overbearing misogyny of the investigating detective, the Catholic Church and Society At Large. Poor Kathleen doesn’t have a snowflake’s chance in Hell against these clowns. Time to invest in some target practice.
British director Tony Garnett wrings every drop of suspense out of the build-up with his unashamedly beatific treatment of Karen Young. Innocence and light personified, her hallowed glow doesn’t fade even with the DIY hacking-off of the burnished blonde mane. Indeed, Handgun is a fine example of judicious restraint being exercised in every element of direction. It’s a slow-burner of a film; a series of events that lead unhurriedly to the fateful evening at Larry’s lad pad and continue in much the same vein thereafter.
Contrapuntal to the theme of a woman’s revenge and retribution is a poignant critique of American gun culture. Texans buy guns like the Brits buy gravy granules, and you can’t help but wonder whether Handgun has experienced resurgence in light of the bloody avalanche of recent firearms-related tragedies in the States. A damning denunciation of the American right to bear arms, which remains a bamboozling and nauseating curiosity to most of Europe, finds its voice through a number of the characters in Handgun. As the instructor at the shooting range points out, “gun laws down here are very liberal… they don’t seem to have caused any problems.” Yeah. Bang on.
Watch Handgun for the good-girl-turned-vigilante-badass. Watch it for the tearjerker rendering of a cold, calculated, premeditated sexual assault. Watch it for confirmation that the Republican anti-welfare statement hasn’t changed in the past 30 years. Watch it for its acerbic comment on gun culture. And at the very least, watch it for the vast array of corrective eyewear that the hipster of today would kill for.