What movies did you watch this Christmas? Did you go for Tim Allen family comedy The Santa Clause, or the much adored romantic Brit-flick Love Actually? Or perhaps you saw something with a lot more of those firecracker bangs and slow-mo explosions? If that’s the case, then I believe it is accepted knowledge that Die Hard is one of the best Christmas movies of all time. But let’s be honest, John McClane being in the wrong place at the wrong time during Christmas isn’t the only time the action genre has seen the festive season go ballistic. There is one respected Hollywood writer and action filmmaker who has made Christmas a motif in much of his work. His name is Shane Black.
Black’s resume in Hollywood over the years has been impressive. He is a writer, director, and actor. The more committed cinema watchers would recognise Black in acting mode as ‘Hawkins’, in the 1987 Sci-fi Predator alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. From written work on The Last Boy Scout, The Long Kiss Goodnight, and his directorial debut Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, he most notably wrote and directed Iron Man 3 for Marvel in 2014 which resulted in a box office of $1.215 billion – all of which are set during Christmas. Yet it was the release of Lethal Weapon the same year as Predator that saw Black’s scriptwriter persona rise to prominence and become the noteworthy filmmaker we acknowledge today.
You may have forgotten but Lethal Weapon is also set during Christmas. There is an early fantastic scene with Mel Gibson in a Christmas tree lot, giving a full insight into the quirky, deranged behaviour of his character ‘Martin Riggs’. The festive mood, be it the more negative ones, seem to undertone the film’s core and establishes how Black incorporates into his writing the more less-known themes that come with Christmas. ‘Riggs’ recently lost his wife, and as the Christmas period draws near, the loneliness he feels for her loss, edges him closer and closer to suicide. There is also the scene where ‘Riggs’ comes across a man ready to jump from the top of a building. Recognising this man’s pain, ‘Riggs’ convinces him to come off the ledge by showing how much more mentally unstable he is. Family is also a recurring theme in the Lethal Weapon series and is established well in this first outing. ‘Riggs’ partnering with Danny Glover’s ‘Murtaugh’ enables him to be welcomed into a new family and in some ways gives him a new reason to carry on with life. That’s a great underlying Christmas message to have in one of the great action movies of all time.
The Long Kiss Goodnight is another great example of taking an assassin/terrorist plot and using Christmas to drive the story. Geena Davis plays a sweet and tender school teacher who suffered amnesia after being found washed up on a beach a number of years ago. Samuel L. Jackson plays a depressed private detective she hires to help learn about her past. After driving home from Christmas drinks, Davis hits a reindeer in her car and suffers a concussion that sees her previous life and skills as an international assassin slowly come back to her. The typical cold weather synonymous with North American winters becomes central to a number of action scenes, including an ice skating car chase on a frozen pond. The explosive finale includes a moment when Davis’ assassin heroine ‘Charly’ abseils using a string of large Christmas light decorations while firing an Uzi. Yet amongst the gunfights and explosions, once again, family and the meaning of Christmas becomes part of the film’s story blueprint. Jackson’s slightly deadbeat character just wants to see his son for Christmas, but his ex-wife doesn’t want him to be part of his life. ‘Charly’ struggles with duality of the wholesome school teacher and mother, who gets picked to part of the town’s Christmas parade and cooks Christmas dinner, with the violent, assassin life she once knew. Family wins over in both instances, of course, it wouldn’t be a Christmas film otherwise!
In May 2016, Black spoke with Entertainment Weekly promoting his latest Christmas-set movie The Nice Guys, with Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling and he detailed what drew him to include holiday season in his work.
“Christmas represents a little stutter in the march of days, a hush in which we have a chance to assess and retrospect our lives. I tend to think also that it just informs as a backdrop. The first time I noticed it was Three Days of the Condor, the Sydney Pollack film, where Christmas in the background adds this really odd, chilling counterpoint to the espionage plot. I also think that Christmas is just a thing of beauty, especially as it applies to places like Los Angeles, where it’s not so obvious, and you have to dig for it, like little nuggets.”
So next year, perhaps consider a Shane Black Christmas movie marathon as a side to your Christmas roast. That should cover you for both Christmas Day and Boxing Day, I reckon!
Are you OK? The Christmas period can be more difficult for some people. If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please contact Beyond Blue 24/7, on their website beyondblue.org.au or on the phone 1300 22 4636.