Handgun: Whitney Ransick’s Directorial Debut, Starring Treat Williams

As a comic spin on the action heist genre, Handgun is a cross between Hal Hartley’s Simple Men and Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

This small-budget indie, which marks Whitney Ransick’s feature directorial debut, is technically uneven, but its sharp dialogue and superlative performances, particularly by Treat Williams, will insure its showing in the festival circuit. Additional post-production work on the editing and sound might also increase the film’s chances for theatrical release.

Wounded during a robbery that goes awry, Jack McCallister (Seymour Cassell) escapes with half a million dollars in payroll booty, which he stashes in a locker. But as soon as the news gets around, a gallery of dubious characters, headed by McCallister’s two sons, set out on a desperate hunt for the stolen cash.

Like Simple Men, Handgun spins an intergenerational tale of a criminal father and his two strange but endearing sons. McCallister’s eldest son George (Treat Williams) is a violent thief who’s as quick with words as he is with his gun. Michael (Paul Schulze), his baby brother, is an elegantly dressed, small-time con artist.

Estranged for years, the two brothers form an uneasy alliance in the hope of retrieving their father’s money. The gimmick is that before dying after a shootout with Earl (Frank Vincent), a ruthless gangster from his past, their father secretly reveals one crucial clue to George and one to Michael. Realizing that they each possess indispensable but partial info about the loot’s location, the siblings are now compelled to work together.

As writer, Ransick constructs an intricate labyrinth of kidnaps, escapes, chases, and betrayals that would do any action pic proud. But following the model of Tarantino’s taut Reservoir Dogs, Ransick also knows that the only way to treat such familiar turf is by investing it with fresh perspective and shrewd humor–as a spoof of machismo, tough guys, dimwitted cops, and family ties. Indeed, Ransick’s deadpan humor mixes idiosyncratic wit with laconic and cryptic dialogue.

The danger of writing and directing such material is that what seems endearingly absurd might easily escalate to the grotesque, but Ransick never surrenders to the temptation of making his narrative weird for the sake of being weird. Though the characters are not meant to be realistic, in the conventional sense of the term, they always inhabit a recognizable urban locale, one populated by slapstick thugs and dumb cops, who seem to appear whenever there’s the slight intimation of action on the streets.

All three lead actors, Williams, Cassell, and Schulze are impressively in tune with Ransick’s quirky, offbeat sense of characterization. But ultimately Handgun belongs to Treat Williams, who renders here one of his career’s most accomplished performances. Williams gives his deliciously wicked, amoral role sharp, fresh shadings, yet he always remains within his character.

Technical credits, particularly Michael’s Spiller’s lensing (with additional photography by Jean de Segonzac), are adequate on what appears to be an extremely low-budgeted effort. However, Jeff Pullman’s sound mixing and Tom McCardle’s editing could be more polished.

Despite these shortcomings, Handgun exhibits an unmistakably alert intelligence and cinematic sensibility that announce the arrival of an original American filmmaker.