Review: Six Shooter
A doctor informs a man, Donnelly, that his wife had died in the morning and brings him to his wife's beside to say goodbye. A sad train journey home leads to an encounter with a strange and psychotic young oddball. 2006 Academy Award winner for Best Live Action Short Film.
Before planting his flag firmly as a master of contemporary black humour and stunningly intelligent character-led storytelling bolstered by electric dialogue, writer/director Martin McDonagh was firing warning shots that modern classics like In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths and The Banshees of Inisherin were on the way. That warning shot came in the form of the (unsurprisingly) Academy award winning drama/black comedy short film Six Shooter.
Now we include the term ‘comedy’ with a considerable pinch of salt as this is an incredibly dark film, however when the laughs come (admittedly via very uncomfortable gallows humour) they are undeniable. What is also undeniable is the bleakness of the film’s opening, with protagonist Donnelly (played by a very on form Brendan Gleeson) being informed of his wife’s passing. The opening minutes of the film set us up for a journey of a man dealing with the raw grief of losing his wife. However, within a few heavy moments we are hit with a comedic exchange delivered so straight that our first response is “wait, what?” These moments pop up throughout the film at the most unexpected and inappropriate times, inducing guilty laughs while seamlessly transitioning back to moments of genuine drama.
A fascinating situational dynamic occurs over the course of the film as Donnelly, deep in the throes of his own personal grief, keeps finding his way into situations that do not allow him to actually process what has happened. Instead, he finds himself having to comfort, support or empathise with total strangers, with no quarter given for his own loss. This includes an encounter with a grieving couple and finding himself attached to a foul-mouthed loner who simply will not stop talking (an entrancing and cringe-inducing turn by Rúaidhrí Conroy).
The story structure is an intriguing one as the film makes no apologies for taking its time in getting where it is going. McDonagh, as he would go on to do in films like In Bruges and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, lets the characters reveal their histories and motivations in an organic way. In doing so he allows them to make an (often negative) first impression, which is then subverted by a revelation later on, usually as a result of the protagonist doing the work of engaging them in ways other characters don’t. The fact that McDonagh is able to pull off the same trick here, within the time constraints of a short film, goes a long way to explaining the storytelling prowess on display in his later work.
A strong cast is a big part of this film’s success. While we have come to expect a strong turn from Gleeson, he still manages to emotionally ensnare the audience with his expertly balanced performance over the course of the film’s 26-minute runtime. Screen stalwart and multiple Gleeson collaborator, David Wilmot makes a huge mark on the story as one half of the grief-stricken couple. His volatile character is balanced out by the clipped and measured demeanour of his wife played by Aisling O’Sullivan, whose own performance expertly communicates barely contained explosive despair. Their unstable calm is introduced to the jaw-dropping callous insensitivity of the young loner played by Rúaidhrí Conroy, whose performance is arguably the star turn of the film. We are even treated to a cameo by Brendan Gleeson’s son and future leader of the First Order Domhnall Gleeson. The Gleesons deliver a great verbal exchange, underscoring the unexpected hilarity of dealing with a grieving man that no one knows is grieving.
This is a fantastic example of plot driven by character, with exemplary twists being payoffs to earlier lines that we do not even realise are set-ups. We are taken on a literal journey with just the right measures of ambiguity, pain, tension and yes comedy that makes this short film just as rewarding as the award-winning feature films that would follow it. A 100% recommendation.
Studio: Film Four/The Irish Film Board/Missing in Action/Funny Farm Films | Year: 2004 | Genre: Drama/Dark Comedy | Duration: 26 Mins | Suitability: Mature (Strong language and scenes of violence)
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Rúaidhrí Conroy, David Wilmot, Aisling O'Sullivan
Director: Martin McDonagh | Producers: Kenton Allen, Mia Bays, Mary McCarthy, John McDonnell | Writer: Martin McDonagh