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🎬 #30 Three, Four Hour Films.
Rules are made to be broken I suppose and you could say this week’s recommendation does just that. My friend Pete kept telling me to watch something and he has very good taste, so I thought I would. And having just finished it, this week I’m suggesting you all watch it too if you haven’t already.
I’m not talking about the original cut of Erich Von Stroheim’s Greed, Kenneth Brannagh’s Hamlet or Soderbergh's Che Part One and Part 2 [all of which are good] I’m talking about Barry, Seasons 1-3.
2018-2022 Dir Bill Hader, Alec Berg, Hiro Murai, Maggie Carey, Liza Johnson and Minkie Spiro.
It might be a bit of cliche at the moment but this came straight from the co-creator, Bill Hader’s mouth. He said, when planning out the arc of each season and the first three as a whole, they thought about it not as episodic television but as one big film per season. You can feel this in the pacing and choice of shots. Weirdly, even though each episode is only 30 minutes or so long, this choice to let sequences play out in a master and not to resort to quick paced editing when an action sequence pops up, makes each 30 minutes feel much longer. In a good way.
In fact there’s something to be said about what duration means and how it frames storytelling or its impact on the audience. Usually 30 minutes of TV says it’s a comedy. Even comedy films are normally, on average, shorter than their drama counterparts. And of course, the epics are usually multiple hours in run time, because the historical heft of the subject or their scope and scale demands more minutes.
This is where Barry defies its first expectation - even though its a 30 minute per episode show, it’s not necessarily a strict comedy. It’s really hard to define exactly what it is in many ways. That’s one of the reasons why I really enjoy it. One minute it’s slapstick absurdist comedy, the next minute it’s high stakes anxiety inducing tension and the next minute its flawlessly executing an action sequence, all in its own unexpected ‘Barry’ way.
Part of the joy of watching it is seeing how they’ll subvert the expectation of the story that we’re used to seeing. This story is that of a hitman realising that he no longer wants to partake in the life he’s chosen, he wants out. In Barry, he wants to leave his killing days behind him to be an actor. At pretty much every turn, they play it a totally different way, that’s just good writing, yes, but it’s also the idea that Barry is built on - someone totally unexpected being a hitman - Bill Hader. It’s a cheat to say it but there is a Coen Brother’s, Shane Black feeling to how things play out. A typical thriller trope is thrown out the window and they ask, what would actually happen if this were real life? The comedy and drama come from that answer and the tension generated by pitting the reality of physics with the unreality of thriller tropes. Letting the shot play out a little longer than it usually does, keeping wide when you’d typically go in close, keeping the edit slower when it usually would be faster. This unusual-ness is less of a surprise when you realise [co-creator] Alec Berg’s involvement in writing Seinfeld and being an executive producer of both Curb Your Enthusiasm and Silicon Valley.
Bill Hader is great as Barry but where he really shines is as director, writer and co-creator. He’s directed the most episodes while his co-creator Alec Berg comes in just behind him on the tally. The handling of the blocking, the choice of shots and the action within them - having little to no music when usually it would be wall to wall - are all strong choices of someone with a clear vision.
Hader once said in an interview that he spoke to his DOP on one particular occasion about how to make an action scene not look cool. There is a sense of deliberately going against the stylistic directorial choices that other’s might make. A sense that the camera isn’t behaving in the way that we’re used to for what’s happening on screen. This is refreshing in so many ways - not least the feeling of brutal simplicity with which the story is told. Like the character Barry, Hader is there to get in execute and get back out in as few steps as possible.
The characters too are all kind of ‘expected’ archetypes but it’s how they’re brought to life and written so specifically and acted so perfectly that they become so memorable. From Steven Root, to Anthony Carrigan to Henry Winkler, everyone on the show makes a mark, with Anthony Carrigan’s Noho Hank almost stealing the show on many occasions. I don’t watch a lot of TV shows but I haven’t enjoyed being surprised by something in quite this way in a long time. I urge you to try it out and join in on the surprise.
TL;DR why should I spend 12 hrs of my precious life watching this? Yes I recommended a TV show but it will be the first and last time, watch Bill Hader and his staff execute a show unlike anything else and revel in this shape shifting beast of a story.
*Available on Now TV with subscription, to buy on Amazon Prime, Apple, and Sky Store.
Fact: Bill Hader’s first job in the business was as a PA on Sam Raimi’s Spiderman.
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