Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"For all its flaws, Hangman is quite watchable and doesn't overstay its welcome."

Hangman is such a perfect 1970s-style tale of grizzled cops searching for a serial killer that one wonders why it hasn't been staged as a period piece. The visual and auditory styles are there, the sets are there; only Brittany Snow's interchangeable blond reporter roots it in the present. She's supposed to be writing a piece about the day to day experiences of ordinary police officers, so of course she happens to arrive just as Karl Urban's melancholy criminal profiler Will Ruiney is investigating two murders which appear to be interconnected. Prompted by a clue the killer left behind, he brings in retired former colleague Ray Archer (Al Pacino) to help. Now the race is on to prevent further deaths as the killer's game suggests that at least eight more murders have been planned.

That game, in case you didn't guess from the title, is hangman. Imagine if the Zodiac killer had started in pre-school and you'll get the gist. Of course, there are strategic ways to play this game, but that never seems to enter anyone's head. Instead the crime-fighting duo blunder around, arriving at each crime scene just too late, until it emerges that not one but all three of them have personal connections to what's happening.

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Snow plays this straight with the full force of a recent drama school graduate. Pacino delivers it in such a world weary way that the plot itself seems to be taking a toll on him. Urban tries hard to make his character and tired backstory feel real without straying too far from the conventions of the genre. He acquits himself well, reminding viewers that he deserves more leading roles even if (Dredd aside) he doesn't have what studios consider to be the right face for them.

Unfortunately, though the three leads work well enough, there are some really shaky supporting performances alongside them, notably in a scene where a woman reacts to being told of the death of her girlfriend as if she's choking on a live mouse. Coming right after an energetic parkour-based action scene, this has the effect of snapping one right out of the mood the film is working to create. It also makes the rather weak willed but still potentially dangerous bad guy less scary than he ought to be.

For all its flaws, Hangman is quite watchable and doesn't overstay its welcome. It raises interesting questions about the future of the serial killer film in a world where the public is served similar stories several times a week on TV, and its atmosphere of murk and grime recalls a time when murder itself had a different kind of impact.

Reviewed on: 20 May 2018
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A homicide detective teams up with a criminal profiler to catch a serial killer whose crimes are inspired by the children's game Hangman.
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Director: Jonny Martin

Writer: Michael Caissie, Charles Huttinger

Starring: Al Pacino, Karl Urban, Brittany Snow, Joe Anderson, Sarah Shahi

Year: 2017

Runtime: 108 minutes

Country: US


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