“This relationship between men is one of the key tenets on which all of Pegg, Frost, and Wright’s work is built, along with the oft-cited pop-cultural obsession and the symmetrical structures of callbacks and foreshadowing which we’ll be looking at in a future post.”
Ah yeah I did. Consider that foreshadowing, and this the callback. If we want to reach back even further, my review of Chris Nolan’s Inception might be useful: I compared it to a Rubik’s cube-style puzzle, or a clockwork-tight machine of interlocking pieces of plot/idea/dialogue. Hot Fuzz does all that – it’s got a whole lot of guns on a whole mess of mantlepieces, the dialogue is full of repetitions and variations – but at the middle of that ticking machine of gears and pistons, it manages to stuff in a human heart.
(The heart being the relationship between Nicholas Angel and Danny Butterman. That’d be the romantic relationship between two straight men, then. Tick!)
I know it’s generally considered second to Shaun of the Dead, and please understand that, as a film with The Fratellis on the soundtrack, my love comes hard-earned. But Hot Fuzz is an astoundingly well put-together piece of work. It feels crafted, like every decision was carefully thought through: the confident second album.
And it uses its structure for so many different purposes: first, most obviously, comedy. Take the swan, which evolves from the reversal of a classic Simpsons prank call (Mr P.I. Staker, it turns out, doesn’t think his name is particularly funny) to a running sight gag. But, and here’s the thing: it’s also key to the action of the film. The swan turns out to be a vital element in winning the film’s final ‘boss fight’, which feels natural – this is no cygnus ex machina – and funny. It’s an effortless juggling of the film’s two halves, the mundaneity of small-town boredom vs big Michael-Bayesque action.
It’s also a good way to put the viewer inside Angel’s much-discussed brain – which is tightly focused and trained, like a bureaucratic British Batman – as he tries to solve the mystery. First of all, everything is rigidly ordered, as it should be when your protagonist demands paperwork after a firefight. But it also gives the impression that clues are being laid, that we can solve this mystery. It is all there from the very start, and it’s actually probably easier as a comedy to lay down each piece of the puzzle without them being noticed, because it’s indistinguishable from the bits of set-up that will be played for laughs. (The solution to the mystery, incidentally, is probably the film’s weakest element, because it feels so arbitrary; thinking about the film’s political stance, though, it is rather more thematically satisfying.)
Meanwhile, it sets up a sense of place: the repeated references, a sign first, then a joke, to the model village which, of course, ends up as the setting for the big finale. Meanwhile, it’s helping make the plot fit together and not collapse into total farce. Meanwhile, it’s keeping a certain part of your brain occupied and entertained, the part of you that might have occasionally watched Spaced with the reference-explaining subtitles turned on… Tying it to last week’s idea of films as music might be a callback too far, I suppose?
There are hundreds of other things to like. Timothy Dalton as the very obvious baddie, chewing so much scenery that of course he ends up … well, chewing scenery. The way it takes a certain strain of very British, “you’re not even from round here!” conservatism* as its villain, and places the ‘hoodies’ alongside the heroes. Nick Frost using his natural sweetness to completely sell the central romance. Count Buckules having his head exploded by a piece of masonry. The dozens of great British comedians and actors. The Iain Banks/Iain M Banks joke, which also makes me feel clever. The continued use of the smash-cut montages of the mundane: filling in paperwork, photocopying…
But the thing I always come back to is how well structured it all is. Like Inception, like Watchmen (not Zack Snyder’s), Hot Fuzz is a film that rewards careful watching and rewatching by tickling that little part of your forebrain that tells you ‘oh, I’m well clever!’ for noticing. But it weaves this careful structure into something with as much heart as brains
*DISCLAIMER: Note the small ‘c’. Not in the political sense, friends who I’ve argued about the world of difference that capital letter means. I mean a genuine wish for things to remain in stasis.