I just read the news that Billy Drago has died aged 73. He was an excellent actor who excelled as villains in movies and television. I’ll most remember him for his role in The Untouchables and as the demon of fear in Charmed. We’ll miss you Billy and it’s sad you’ve left us. But at least you’ll be remembered.
- Drew Barrymore as Anita Minteer
- James LeGros as Howard Hickok
- Billy Drago as Hank Fulton
- Michael Ironside as Kincaid
- Joe Dallesandro as Rooney
- Ione Skye as Joy
A crime drama of two abused souls and lovers gaining what they consider power through automatic weapons in an unfair world, Guncrazy is pretty compelling in how it establishes the doomed love between the two misfits and the tragic consequences of it all. With effective performances from Drew Barrymore and James LeGros, plus some eye-catching direction from Tamra Davis in her debut, Guncrazy is a film worthy of attention.
Anita is a lonely teenager who is constantly bullied and harassed by schoolboys and sexually abused by her absentee mother’s boyfriend Rooney, who she lives with in his trailer. She retains something of a hopeful demeanor, though her way of sleeping with any guy, even if they treat her horribly, makes her an outcast and bad news to many in her desolate town. Her dire existence takes a turn when her geography teacher assigns a project of finding pen pals to converse with. While others write to people from around the world, Anita finds correspondence with Howard Hickok, a convict who is serving term for a manslaughter charge. As soon as she begins receiving his letters, Anita is madly in love as Howard talks to her with a sincerity and kindness that she’s never known. Adopting Howard’s love of guns, Anita gets slimy Rooney to teach her how to shoot. When he sexually abuses her again, she uses her newfound prowess to kill him. Howard becomes available for parole and Anita manages to persuade slightly zany local preacher and part-time mechanic Hank Fulton to give him a job within both capacities and vouch for him. Upon Howard’s arrival, him and Anita completely give themselves to the other. Howard is far from a hardened criminal; instead seeming vulnerable and tragic, and only using a gun when he can’t think of another way to get out of a situation. He feels a gun is making up for the fact that he is impotent, but Anita is actually happy that for once a man doesn’t want to take advantage of her. Meanwhile, stern local parole officer Kincaid doesn’t like the look of Howard and makes this feeling known to him, saying he believes he should never have been let out of jail. The two become besotted with each other, eventually marrying after Hank catches them together and as both of them have used the church to help themselves, but largely because they are infatuated with the presence of the other. Yet while attempting to get through the unfair and cruel life each has experienced, the gun lust that influences both takes over and things spiral. As they stumble into accidental killing that mounts to a body count and forces them to flee, the spectre of tragedy hangs over runaways Anita and Howard, getting closer by the second.
Considering it was her directing debut, Tamra Davis did a commendable job with the material and invested it with quite a bit of emotion. She never condones the actions of the protagonists, rather presenting them as two list people getting some feeling of illusory power with something dangerous. Davis doesn’t glamorize gun use, but more examines the reasons why Anita and Howard would become so enamoured with them. The run down and festering setting for a large chunk of Guncrazy points to the isolation and holed up feeling, envisioned by Tamra Davis through an attention to detail that is markedly unvarnished. Guncrazy features quite a lot foreshadowing through various visual imagery and some of the dialogue from Hank, which hints at darkness and turmoil even when someone is trying to gain salvation. Anita and Howard are basically doomed from the get go; stemming from the society around them and the mistreatment by others. By using firearms, they believe they have some control over their lives for once. Howard mainly obsesses over them as he sees them as the solution to problems and probably a symbol of manhood that he feels he lacks. While Anita adopts his love as it gives her what she considers strength to finally stand up for herself, starting with Rooney who pays the price for all the horror he has put Anita through. Some of it over stretches into melodrama and occasionally float into slow-moving, though there are enough touches to make Guncrazy still watchable and different in an offbeat way. A little bit longer on the running time might have benefited it, but the main story and characters invest you in it and paper over this flaw. It might not be Bonnie and Clyde or Badlands, but Guncrazy does a commendable job at delving into the turmoil of the two main characters and their tragic companionship. The largely electronic and rock influenced soundtrack suits the overall mood and angst of the piece.
Drew Barrymore turns in a stellar performance as the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who needs a feeling of belonging and care. The part of Anita is someone who is a misunderstood and mistreated girl, finally discovering at least for a while, a feeling of power and respect in the arms of the only man who has treated her right. Drew Barrymore burrows into Anita’s naivety and sunny, adorable need for love that ultimately is heartbreaking to watch. Anita just wants some acceptance in her bleak and unfortunate life, which Drew Barrymore plays naturally and with skill, ensuring that even when Anita is shooting others and on the run from the law, we feel a sense of sorrow for her. It’s a fascinating portrayal from Drew Barrymore, that really stands out. Equally as good is James LeGros, playing the gun obsessed Howard in a way that is different from what you’d expect. He has a quiet charm, sadness and even polite demeanor, that makes it hard to believe at first that he has ever committed a crime. Yet once a gun is put in his view, his boiling anger comes out with dangerous results and unpredictable outcomes. Both main actors work great together, finding an intense yet reflective understanding of each other, even if they are doomed throughout the whole thing. Billy Drago has always boasted for me a slightly off-kilter and strange vibe, which makes him perfect as the snake-handling preacher who is slightly crazy. His flair for the unusual is ideally utilised in this chief supporting role. Then there is Michael Ironside, who is gruff and disapproving as they come when acting as the skeptical parole officer. Joe Dallesandro is all sweaty and slobbering brutality after Anita, eventually getting what he deserves for his sadistic actions and abhorrent behaviour. Ione Skye is the only real weak link in the cast, partly because she is given hardly anything to do within the whole story.
A largely excellent film that strikingly gets across the alienation and desperation of two youths and their penchant for weaponry, Guncrazy is a memorable crime drama, highlighted by the work of Drew Barrymore in the lead. If you ever had any doubt about her versatility, check this out to see her sterling performance, surrounding by an array of interesting supporting players.