Handgun (aka Deep in the Heart) is a rare film in that it is a non-exploitative rape and revenge thriller which actually has a political and artistic agenda. In many respects this film is more a comment on America’s gun laws that’s been framed on a pretty conventional revenge narrative, rather than a fresh look at the troubled sub-genre itself. It’s always clear which direction director Tony Garnett leans in regard to gun control laws, but thankfully the movie allows a spectrum of opinions to be heard and isn’t didactic with its views.
The rape narrative is appropriately horrifying. Karen Young (in her first film role) is practically the picture of innocence, many times she could almost be mistaken for a child in fact, and that makes the key scene that extra bit troubling. By not exploiting her body the film powerfully leaves a lot to our imagination, whilst showing us just enough to make this one of the most uncomfortable rape scenes I’ve seen in a film. Does it take too long to get to the crucial scene? Perhaps it does… but it just gets away with it in my eyes because we really do care when our protagonist goes through that, and perhaps that’s down to those few extra minutes of screen time. It does straddle a fine line though, any longer and it really would have begun to lose us.
One of the film’s biggest strengths is Karen Young who gives a very committed and naturalistic performance as our protagonist. She is impressive throughout the film, particularly so when she deals with the rape and the complications that come in its wake. She ensures that any potential sexualisation of her character’s fate is truly erased by the uncomfortably honest way in which she navigates that element of the script. It’s here where the film’s TV documentary feel is perhaps most effective as the rawer and less sensationalised feel really gives an edge to the scenes. In other places though this approach doesn’t do a whole lot for the film, that realistic tone doesn’t improve upon the film’s discussion on gun law in any way for example. Also, in-keeping with the documentary feel of the film, I’m pretty sure that some of the bit parts are played by real life gun experts rather than actors. Perhaps this was a budgetary decision, I don’t know, but it isn’t necessary for the film, and does mean that a few scenes don’t really flow as naturally as they should.
Still, my quibbles with this one are pretty small really. Handgun isn’t a complex film, and maybe it should have been a little less black and white at times, but thankfully it is open to discussion on gun crime and it’s non-exploitative with its rape element. The fact that both of these subject are well handled, plus the fact that we get an excellent lead performance here, means that I give this one a pretty big thumbs up. It’s certainly worth a shot if any of the things I just mentioned sound intriguing to you, but just don’t go in expecting a I Spit on Your Grave-esque film, this is far from being that.
What is the film’s greatest strength? Karen Young’s performance as both innocent victim and fire filled avenger.
Its greatest weakness? I don’t know that the TV documentary feel really serves the film very well.
Would I see it again? Certainly, it’s not perfect but it is interesting and the rape element is well handled.
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