Shane Black’s Christmas movies show the reality of the season
It’s rare for a holiday movie to fully portray the reality of the season, which is to say for many it’s not so happy. Sure, many popular Christmas movies take a jaded Scrooge of a protagonist to a place where they allow themselves to experience the joy of the holiday season, but even this bow idealizes the holiday season as a balm for souls. the most lost. The reality is that the sentimental joy of Christmas often serves only as a reminder of what they don’t have. There’s hardly ever the kind of neat story arc that brings a Christmas moment of clarity; it’s just eggnog and the weird âI wish you were hereâ message sent.
I think that’s why Shane Black’s films have, for me, always captured the Christmas spirit as well as – if not better than – most traditional holiday dishes. Almost all of his films are set during the holidays, although the spirit of the season rarely comes to the fore. The timing is often tertiary for kidnapping plans, shootouts, and terminally ill lawyers caught up in labyrinthine plots. This decision alone already engages a certain reality of the holiday season: life does not end with Christmas. Often, he is content to cross it.
There’s also her favorite setting, which is usually Los Angeles. SoCal climates are not conducive to snow and cold, removing an easy kickstand in making a vacation atmosphere. It also allows for the juxtaposition of vacation iconography with beaches, sun and heat – a visual shortcut for what is often a clash between traditional vacation joy and the inner lives of its protagonists.
Black’s first screenplay for the film Deadly weapon (Can you imagine walking out the door hot with it Mortal! Armed!) helped define the tropes of ’80s and’ 90s action cinema. The film cast Danny Glover as tired, upright cop Roger Murtaugh and paired him with Mel Gibson as Martin Riggs, the rule-breaking Loose Cannon prototype cop. It also happens during the Christmas period.
When a film defines an archetype in the way Deadly weapon in fact, its finer details are often erased by decades of sequels, tributes and parodies. That is, it’s still a bit shocking to watch the movie again and remember that Gibson’s Riggs isn’t just a common thread – it’s actively suicidal. He is in the grip of a deep depression after the death of his wife, about to spend the holidays without her for the first time. Fifteen minutes after the movie starts, we watch him put a gun in his mouth. The most wonderful time of year, indeed.
After the critical failure of 1996 The long kiss Good night (another Christmas action thriller and eventual cult classic), Black moved away from Hollywood for almost a decade. On his return, it would be with his directorial debut, the years 2005 Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. The black black comedy follows Robert Downey Jr. as a petty con artist turned aspiring actor and Val Kilmer as an extremely impatient private investigator. They are, to say the least, not the best. Still, they’re what Black’s Los Angeles has closest to the good guys, as they find themselves trapped in an intricate plot involving shady suicide, a missing girl, and a series of luscious mystery novels.
The movie gave Downey Jr. the career revival that would ultimately lead to Iron Man and features a storyline overflowing with piss and gall, the work of a man whose love for Hollywood curdled decades ago. Even its sweet ending comes with a few grains of salt.
After a brief but memorable (and Christmas!) Stint in the MCU with Iron man 3 (either the best or the worst Marvel movie, depending on who you ask) (it’s the best), Black dropped the 2016 one The nice guys, an action comedy that feels like the spiritual successor to both Deadly weapon and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. There may be less Christmas iconography in the film than any other black seal, but it nonetheless captures its vision of the holidays more completely than any of his earlier works.
Like its predecessors, The nice guys pairs an odd couple of Holland March of Ryan Gosling (a silly private investigator with a drinking problem) and Jackson Healy of Russell Crowe, a conflicting leader in the business of professional bullying. At first, on either side of a complex ploy organized by forces far above their pay grade, March and Healy soon find themselves lined up as they attempt to locate a missing girl. Even if they do manage to make it out alive and ostensibly put one of the villains in jail, they are immediately faced with the truth: you cannot beat capitalism or the cold, insensitive forces that spin its wheel.
When asked why he is directing his films during the holiday season, Black explained to Weekly entertainment:
Christmas represents a little stuttering in the march of days, a silence in which we have a chance to assess and retrospect our lives … [it] is just a thing of beauty, especially since it applies to places like Los Angeles, where it’s not that obvious, and you have to dig for it, like little nuggets. One night on Christmas Eve, I walked past a Mexican lunch car serving tacos, and I saw this little string, and on it was a little broken plastic figure, with a light bulb inside, of the Virgin Mary. And I thought, it’s just a little piece of hidden magic. You know, all around town are little slices, little Christmas icons, that are as effective and beautiful in themselves as any 40 foot Christmas tree on the White House lawn. So that is, in many words, the answer.
Quite often Christmas movies portray the holidays as a happy ending, a neat knot tied over a lifetime’s pristine bundle. Families reunite, lovers promise each other eternity, and Santa Claus defeats Martin Short’s Jack Frost in a ritual fight (I haven’t seen Santa Claus 3: The relief clause, but I always assumed that was how it ended). Black presents it in a more sober light. For the broken, Christmas can serve as a reminder of the absence of what was once cherished – or never there to begin with.
Black’s affection for the holidays shines through in the way his characters choose to coexist with this absence. Riggs finds a brother in Murtaugh and chooses life over death, giving his friend the ball he kept for himself. Michelle Monaghan’s Harry, Perry, and Harmony find each other’s motivation to maybe try and be a little less shitty to themselves and the world around them to move forward. And even with March and Healy’s efforts ultimately thwarted, their story ends with toast, a toast to small victories. If we don’t celebrate them, after all, we have nothing.
A Shane Black Christmas is not that merry. It’s often a reminder that the world is a scary place, full of death and pain, and the fact that we can’t stop it. But with that comes another reminder: we have to endure – and we have to celebrate that endurance, if only for one day a year. A Shane Black Christmas is a time to breathe, to remind yourself that you are still here, still alive, that the world has not beaten you yet. Maybe it will be tomorrow, or next week, or next year. But not today. Not at Christmas.