Hangman Blu-ray Review
Written by Angry Scholar
Blu-ray released by Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Directed by Johnny Martin
Written by Michael Caissie and Charles Huttinger
2017, 98 minutes, Rated R
Blu-ray released on February 27th, 2018
Karl Urban as Detective Ruiney
Al Pacino as Detective Archer
Brittany Snow as Christi Davies
Sarah Shahi as Captain Lisa Watson
Hangman is a Fincher-esque crime thriller starring Karl Urban as Tough Guy Cop with a Personal Tragedy Type 1A and Al Pacino as Old Wise Cop Either About to Retire/Recently Retired. When folks start turning up dead in a noticeably similar way—hanged, with letters carved in them—the Trope Squad is on the job, joined by Spunky Reporter who is Tougher than She Appears #42 (Brittany Snow). The film also features appearances by Perpetually Angry Police Captain, Charmingly Nerdy Mortician, and Serial Killer who Secretly Wants to be Caught and Arranges Everything So People Will Find Him (Joe Anderson).
This is clearly not a helpful summary. The thing is, I don’t know that a proper synopsis is warranted. You’ve really seen this before: that Fincher mention isn’t just a throwaway. Hangman is Seven with none of the things that made the latter great. For example, it features two leads, Urban and Pacino, who are little more than palette-swaps for Pitt and Freeman. (Pacino’s Ray Archer even does crossword puzzles in Latin). Urban’s Detective Ruiney (an odd spelling for “Rooney” that I assume was meant as unbearably heavy-handed foreshadowing) is supposedly smart, having chosen to return to the Monroe Police Department after a stint with the FBI; but like Pitt’s character in that earlier, better film, he acts like a complete moron at just about every opportunity.
Also like Seven, Hangman has a killer who deliberately stages spectacular murders and seeds each crime scene with clues to find the next one—only here, none of them really make sense. In one scene Pacino deduces that a frozen body found hanging in an above-freezing meat locker was doused in water before hanging, because 37 degrees + water = frozen corpse, apparently? He then deduces that the water connection means they should search the nearby river, where they discover a car containing their next clue. I’m no waterologist, but I can’t help but feel that several logical leaps and a lot of luck do not a good film make. A later crime scene contains a train set, which somehow leads our intrepid heroes to the precise location where the next victim will be hung above a real train track, minutes before a speeding train makes extra sure he’s dead.
Logical inconsistencies could be forgiven, perhaps, but where Hangman suffers most is in the script. People are not really people at all, but perfect Jungian archetypes of the roles they represent, distillations of the roles we’ve seen hundreds of times before. The effect is that the film seems more like a parody than an actual entry in its genre. “Looks like Monroe’s got a serial killer” is not a line that was ever, ever necessary, in this or any other reality. People don’t speak this way. Everything is a copy of something you’ve seen elsewhere. One scene, intended to be moody, has this sort of generic Eastern European, or possibly Middle Eastern, warbly vocal music in the background that could have been taken directly from the Gladiator soundtrack.
The acting is terrible, but I can’t tell if it’s because of the actors—Pacino’s in it, for god’s sake —or just that rotten script again, coupled with directing that seems less like directing and more like arranging people in aesthetically pleasing poses and then having them snarl at each other. Urban glowers and glares and squints and clenches his jaw in a way that must have been intended to inject his scenes with “intensity,” but which only served to remind me of Christian Bale’s inadvertently comical bat-growl. Even in early scenes where Ruiney attempts some banter with Archer, Urban’s eyebrows seem intent on migrating halfway down his face to set up camp on his upper lip. He always looks furious. And though I can’t imagine how hard it must be to fake an accent that isn’t your own, Urban’s attempt to sound American is distracting. (Urban is from New Zealand.) Pacino as Archer, meanwhile, seems perpetually baffled, and I’m not certain if this is deliberate or not. Brittany Snow as Christi, the insistent Times reporter who is inexplicably allowed to run around with the detectives all over active crime scenes and during chases with armed perps, fades into the background, her role primarily to nudge along the sluggish narrative and shout at Urban’s character to stop being crazy when it seems appropriate to do so. She’s also instrumental in the final showdown with the killer because of course she is.
Hangman is a film whose parts don’t, mmm, hang together, mmmyes. Maybe worst of all are the hints of goodness that make the total letdown of this film that much more frustrating. It has high production values, good camerawork and editing, and the skeleton of a narrative which, if not original, could have at least been entertaining. But none of it works, so it isn’t.
Video and Audio:
One of Hangman's only redeeming qualities is the video. It's sharp and bright and crystal clear, though this alone isn't particularly exciting these days, when we expect HD and eyeball-scraping realism. It also has some crisp editing and the kind of usually-not-noticeable camerawork we've come to expect from big Hollywood releases. (Give or take a few awkward closeups.) The audio is... sound? Nothing remarkable in any sense of the word. A few weird soundtrack choices, though, like the aforementioned generic Gladiator music.
We get three special features on the Blu Ray. In Al Pacino: Insight from a Hollywood Legend, Pacino rambles somewhat disjointedly about acting. In Hangman: In Their Own Words, we get some discussion by the cast and crew, along with some recycled footage from the Pacino feature (and some major spoilers about the killer and his motivation, so watch at your own risk). Also from Lionsgate is a collection of life hacks, including ways to beat winter itch and ideas for things to weave out of cat hair. Just kidding, it’s a bunch of trailers.