Dear Wendy Review

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Dick (Bell) lives in the rundown mining town of Estherslope. A sensitive young soul, he works as a shelf-stacker rather than toiling in the pits. After finding a small six-shooter one day, he and a bunch of fellow misfits form The Dandies, a gang who desc

★★★★★

For us Europeans, the gun problem in America is somewhat perplexing. The nation has stratospheric levels of firearms-related crime, while maintaining a constitutional right for each and every citizen to bear arms. Surely it's logical to assume that the negation of that right would reduce the crime rate? After all, it ain't the Wild West anymore. No, comes the US right-wing insta-reply: it’s not guns that kill people, it’s people that kill people.

This question — and that response — have clearly been frothing around the brains of Danish filmmaker collaborators Lars von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg, the result being this curious fable. Set in an economically desperate community, it very deliberately could be anywhere in smalltown America — and it could be anywhen, too. The Zombies' monopoly
of the soundtrack, along with the main characters' countercultural tendencies, makes it feel very '60s; the economic tone summons up the Depression era; while the sepia-tinged cinematography suggests the mythical Old West.

It's all very stagey and contrived, but thought-provoking nevertheless. The Dandies, founded by narrator Dick (Jamie Bell, proving, after June's Undertow, that he’s now a dab hand at the surly youth act), provide a parallel with modern-day American gun groups and militias. They meet on a regular basis, wear uniforms (in this case daft, Dick Turpin-esque fancy dress), perfect their firing techniques and discuss their passion for guns — all with the implicit approval of the authorities, represented by Bill Pullman’s Sheriff, who even describes Dick as the kind of man who made America great; exactly how the modern-day militias see themselves. And when, inevitably, it all goes tits-up, the Dandies have to decide what means more to them: their oath never to draw their weapons on others (after all, guns don’t kill people…) or their 'right' to prevent the lawmen from taking those weapons from them.

The problem with Dear Wendy isn't so much that its message becomes muddled (especially when race is thrown into the mix via Danso Gordon's bad-boy) but that, frankly, there’s not a lot to love here. It's a cold, brittle film, capable of grabbing attention but unable to emotionally absorb. Consequently, widespread culty appeal is something it'll fail to achieve, even if it gives those of us who do choose to peer down its barrel something to talk about.

A stylish exploration of America’s gun fetish which engages the brain, but sadly leaves your heart in neutral.