To be remembered as a hangman…

I watched a rather strange movie last night, and it was called Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman.  It is the story of Albert Pierrepoint, an Englishman whose job it was to hang convicted criminals.

Pierrepoint remained anonymous for a long time–most people who knew him thought his job was delivering groceries–but came to notoriety when he had to execute a number of German war criminals.

This story, while mostly about how a man can be good at a job that involves the legal taking of life, is in a sense about the end of capital punishment in England.  Pierrepoint is both lauded and vilified by the public.  Some see him as an avenging angel, someone who ended the lives of the Germans who killed thousands, while others see him only as someone capable of killing others.

Timothy Spall (known to many as Wormtail from the Harry Potter series) does an amazing job of portraying Pierrepoint.  He is able to make believable a man who is intent on doing such a job well, and with surprising compassion.  Pierrepoint’s method insured that the criminal died instantly, from the separation of the second and third vertebrae of the neck.  He also felt that the accused was innocent after death, and should be honored as any other person.  Spall was able to portray this seeming dichotomy.

Another bright spot in the movie was Eddie Marsan, who played Pierrepoint’s friend Tish.  For most of the story, Tish doesn’t know what Pierrepoint’s real job is.  They are just mates who meet up for some ale and to sing together.  And yet, Tish, in a sense, is the one who makes Pierrepoint reevaluate his job.

Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman is a very interesting and well-made movie, even if it is not for everyone.  What I found interesting is that, while hanging is seen as a barbaric form of execution today, the way Pierrepoint did it it’s far less gruesome than electrocution.

I recently watched Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes again, and enjoyed it just as much as an in-theater viewing. The movie is not much like the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of which I’ve read quite a few. Doyle’s Holmes is obsessive, clever, silent, morose, and unstoppable. Ritchie’s Holmes is manic, obsessive, depressive, brutal when necessary, wheedling, offensive, and charming. This combination is actually enhanced by having Robert Downey, Jr. portray this character. Downey has been plagued with issues in previous years, and his resolution of these problems seems only to have made him a stronger actor. I was a little nonplussed at the choice of Jude Law as Watson, but since the movie is so unlike any previous Holmes incarnation, the oddity seems to fit.

And yes, Ritchie did make Doyle’s genius detective into an action star of sorts, but the movie is so brilliant that it works, especially since the essentials of Holmes’s eerie perception and foresight are kept intact. Also, the London that viewers are shown looked like the drab, classic, dirty, teeming London of the Victorian age, seen in such detail through authors like Charles Dickens.

I do have a few criticisms. One is that Downey’s accent gets a little mushy and hard to understand at times. The other main one is about the plot. Lord Blackwood, played by Mark Strong, is not a Holmes-worthy villain. The lack has nothing to do with Strong’s acting ability–I will defend Mark Strong’s acting over many well-known and lauded actors–but more with the weakness of the character. It is quite evident that Blackwood is only a stop-gap to get to the real villain, Professor Moriarty. (Which, of course, means that we will be seeing a Sherlock Holmes 2 at some point in the future.) Strong’s abilities were wasted in such a role, although he gives it his all. And his diction is excellent. (It’s the stage training, I tell ya!)

Eddie Marsan also did an excellent job as Inspector Lestrade. He was able to play the part of a man who is always a few steps behind Holmes without turning it into a comic farce. One gets the impression that he’s a good policeman–after all, he is an Inspector–who has the fortune or misfortune of having to work with Holmes, who always upstages him.

Oh, and Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is excellent! I love the sort of demented piano theme running through the movie.