Review by Tulis McCall
5 Mar 2010
This is a love letter to Christopher Walken sent c/o Martin McDonagh. Plain and simple. Walken always gives me the impression that he is speaking in metaphors. Like there is something else entirely that is going on in his head while he is talking to you. The two are connected, but it is up to you to figure out how. So the character of Carmichael not only fits him, it pulls him across the footlights into your lap, which is just where he wants to be.
Carmichael has only one hand, and 47 years ago the one that he ain’t got was removed by some local thugs in Spokane Washington. When they were done, they left him to bleed to death and waved at him with the hand he just lost. Ever since then he has been on the trail of this hand. From East Coast to West the trail has led him on its merry path. One guy knows another guy knows another guy. The word gets out. And in Nowhere, USA he is now in a hotel, making phone calls to his 90 year-old mother and waiting for the latest contact to return with a hand that might belong to Carmichael. She returns, only it don’t match. Which is not a good thing.
There follows a lot of menacing by Walken and cowering by Marilyn (Zoe Kazan) and Toby (Anthony Mackie) the duo who cooked up the scheme of ripping Carmichael off with a hand that clearly was not his. Hostage situation ensues with everyone doing pretty much what Carmichael asks. Handcuffs and gory bits follow, but without a lot of blood – how lovely! Carmichael exits to take care of some business and leaves behind a candle burning in a gas can as insurance that either he will be satisfied with his search or Marilyn or Toby will go up in flames.
Before Carmichael returns there are some logistical concerns here, like why our hostages, Marilyn and Toby, never use the phone to call the police, and why do they throw shoes at a Molotov cocktail all set to go off when the candle burns down without considering that a big old shoe might knock gas can and candle over with not so good results? And sadly, Marilyn and Toby’s main action is to react and their dialogue is mainly the f-word, the mother-f------- word and the n-word. After Carmichael returns they never quite make it back onto the court.
At this point it could have been Walken walkin’ away with the play. But McDonagh twists the tale with Mervyn (Sam Rockwell) the receptionist, who is on the case. Mervyn arrives early on in his burgundy polyester vest, fully formed, and ready to tolerate all comers. A Behanding in Spokane may be a love letter to Walking, but there is an enormous post script devoted to Mervyn.
The pairing of Walken and Rockwell is a marvel. Two men twisted up like snakes ready to leap out of a can once you remove the lid. They meet each other head on and take no prisoners. Their parries are incremental. Their thrusts are blunt. This is of course in the text, which makes it all the stranger that such short shrift was given to Toby and Marilyn, but it is ultimately these two actors who take their characters to the limit.
This is a comedy about characters who listen and who dare. Be careful when you see it, because the same is asked of you. Laugh too soon and you will miss the lines. Listen too poorly and you will miss the story.
Neither of which you want to do.
"Erratically enjoyable." ... "McDonagh hasn’t provided the kind of exhilarating, nasty fun house we have come to expect of him"
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Wildly entertaining black comedy."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Simultaneously trying too hard and not hard enough."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Offers more laughs than insights."
Elysa Gardner for USA Today
"Insane yet also fiendishly funny".
John Simon for Bloomberg
"Can be enjoyed for Walken's quirky performance."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"It registers as a very long, haphazard, undramatic shaggy-dog story."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"Doesn't amount to more than sketch comedy."
Roma Torre for NY1
"His (Christopher Walken) performance will haunt you even if the play does not"
Michael Kuchwara for AP
"Walken lifts this slight shaggy-dog story into the comic stratosphere."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"Entertaining as it is, however, the black comedy remains insubstantial."
David Rooney for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...