Review: Headshot (2011)

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Cast: Nopporn Chaiyanam, Sirin Horwang, Chanokporn Sayoungkul
Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Country: Thailand | France
Genre: Crime | Drama | Thriller
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Headshot is on limited release from today

A bullet to the head would give anyone a new perspective on life. It’s the literal case for Tul, the hero of Headshot and recipient of the eponymous wound, whose thusly damaged brain fails to perceive the world the right way up as for the rest of us. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s film—this week announced as Thailand’s official submission for the 85th Academy Awards—traces his journey to such an occupation, exploring his prior life as a cop jaded by the judicial system that failed him, and the aftermath of the shooting as he tries to find some solace in the tenets of Buddhism.

Chaiyanam communicates the various states of mind and sides of the law his character inhabits with commendable panache, the particular time period almost easier to recognise in the mannerisms of the leading man than in the length of his hair.

Alternating intermittently between Tul’s past and present, Ratanaruang weaves a dense plot of moral complexity, introducing us to his protagonist with a bang and only slowly revealing the rationales for his crimes. A beautifully executed opening sequence provides immediate immersion in this dubious double life, strikingly submerging us in the blood-stained world of this man. Nopporn Chaiyanam sports a dazzling array of hairstyles in representation of Tul’s multiple timelines, shaggy and unkempt in one moment and bald the next as he leaps from by-the-book cop to contract killer. Chaiyanam communicates the various states of mind and sides of the law his character inhabits with commendable panache, the particular time period almost easier to recognise in the mannerisms of the leading man than in the length of his hair.

The diversified plotting of the film rewards Ratanaruang’s character study, building Tul from numerous angles at once and managing consistently to subvert any concrete image of his constitution. It’s a treatise on memory, in many ways, the time-hopping structure that of Tul’s mind as much as of Ratanaruang’s storytelling as he searches to put his wicked ways to rest. Yet complementary to the establishment of a conflicted, complex character though the many strands may be, they also offer a tangled web of plot points more carelessly convoluted than cautiously constructed. It’s the kind of multi-layered narrative network that eventually requires lengthy, Psycho-level scenes of pure exposition, sudden breaks in brisk pacing where the film halts to reveal its own cleverness in painstaking detail.

…abundant also are the hazy inverted shots which offer the hero’s point of view in contrast to the crisp wide angles otherwise employed. Though offering visual manifestation to the key concept of skewed moral perspectives, this intermittent, undisciplined usage seems more an excess indulgence than an empathetic tool…

The central idea of memory becomes for Ratanaruang more storytelling gimmick than thematic concern, his character’s inner conflict never meshing with the toing and froing of the timeline in the way that something like Memento manages so well. Such structural and stylistic flourish is evidently more interesting to the director than Tul’s tumultuous mind; abundant also are the hazy inverted shots which offer the hero’s point of view in contrast to the crisp wide angles otherwise employed. Though offering visual manifestation to the key concept of skewed moral perspectives, this intermittent, undisciplined usage seems more an excess indulgence than an empathetic tool, taken more as opportunity for cool aside than insight into the stigma of seeing—as Tul so often reminds us in voiceover—rain falling up.

Tul’s first assignment to which we’re privy is the assassination of three monks, a task for which he dons the orange robes himself. The profound duality of a man who assumes such spiritual garb to aid in murder, only to later seek to do the same for his own salvation, makes Headshot a fascinating work with the power to raise considerable questions on the nature of redemption. Ratanaruang makes the mistake of thinking a sleek veneer more important than a solid core, sacrificing the complexity of the material and delivering a decent thriller where once a probing drama might have stood. Tul’s inverted perspective allows him to re-evaluate the world and recognise the error of his ways. What a shame that Ratanaruang could not do the same.

[notification type=”star”]63/100 ~ OKAY. Headshot makes the mistake of thinking a sleek veneer more important than a solid core, sacrificing the complexity of the material and delivering a decent thriller where once a probing drama might have stood.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.

  • Edgar Allen

    Some have referred to Headshot as a “Buddhist Noir” and that
    was enough to pique my interest. A few of my DISH coworkers and I started a
    little foreign film club, and Headshot looks like it will be a good movie to
    begin with. I just added it to the top of my Blockbuster @Home rental queue,
    and I should have it in a couple of days; just in time for our first gathering.
    I know you gave it a mediocre rating, but I have some hope for the movie, and I
    expect that we will all find something to like about the film.