Culture Film & TV

Chekhov’s Gun and the Greater Good: Why I Love Hot Fuzz

Illustration by Fenella Gent

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

If you care about movies, or indeed stories in general, then you may have heard of the concept of Chekhov’s Gun. Coined by Russian playwright and author Anton Chekhov, this idea is that stories should not make false promises to the audience, and if something is set up then there should be a pay-off. In his own words, “If in the first act a pistol is hung on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired”. The importance of this concept is evident when presented with stories that break it, that have plot points that appear out of the blue, or seem important but lead to nothing (cough cough, The Room, cough cough). Chekhov’s Gun gives the impression that everything in the script has meaning, that everything is significant in some way, which makes for a seriously engaging story. And the undisputed king of this is Edgar Wright.

Wright is without a doubt my favourite director of all time; take a look at any of his films and you will see an absolute masterclass in storytelling, where Chekhov’s Gun is set to fully-automatic. The movies that do this better than any other though, are Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, the three movies in Wright’s thematic Cornetto Trilogy. I mean Shaun of the Dead has a literal Chekhov’s Gun in the form of the famous Winchester Rifle. All three of these films deserve to be talked about in their own right, but for me the film that does it best is Hot Fuzz, a 2007 triumph about a big cop (Pegg) in a small town uncovering a conspiracy alongside his new partner (Frost). Any of my friends will be able to tell you that I am obsessed with this movie, and for good reason. Wright, along with stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, created one of the greatest action movies ever made, not to mention the actual greatest police movie ever made, while simultaneously commenting on how ridiculous both of those genres really are, before fully embracing the ridiculousness in a way that actually makes sense. This whilst also making one of the funniest movies ever. How that is possible is beyond me, but it happened.

Above all that though, perhaps the best thing about Hot Fuzz is how rewatchable it is – honestly, this is the perfect desert island movie. Why? Because almost everything mentioned or shown, to a frankly scary extent, is revisited or referenced later on. Not just big plot points as well, but the tiniest of details, including offhand comments about a suspiciously large coat or farmers and farmers’ mums (if you know you know, and if not please watch it). Wright doesn’t make films to be watched, he makes them to be rewatched; you’ll see some new connection every time you visit this movie. Credit can’t be placed entirely on Wright however; co-writer and star Pegg deserves just as much, and I truly believe that script supervisor Susanna Lenton worked harder than anyone in the movie business ever has while making sure everything added up as it was supposed to. Everything in this movie has a meaning, nothing goes to waste, and that makes coming back to it an absolute joy.

It’s not just the masterful use of Chekhov’s Gun that make this movie so rewatchable though, it’s the characters as well. And the best ones, rightfully so, are those of the leading duo. Pegg’s Nicholas Angelinitially appears as the cliché no-nonsense cop, fighting for the iron word of the law, literally introduced to the song Goody Two Shoes by Adam Ant. But this description doesn’t really do him justice (excuse the pun) – Angel is a man who just wants to do good, and is willing to let smaller issues such as graffiti or disruptive school children go in order to focus on the bigger picture. He doesn’t fight for the law, but for the greater good. This makes the villains of the piece, the Neighbourhood Watch Alliance, his perfect foil. To them, the greater good comes from the removal – normally through murder – of the slightest annoyances and the most trivial of upsets. They have the same goal as Angel, but could not be more different in their approach. This to me makes the hero so much more engaging, and somewhat relevant to our landscape today; Angel didn’t become the perfect cop because of the sanctity of the law, but because he was always a good person. Huh, I wonder if his name might be a metaphor?

Of course, Frost’s Danny Butterman is a magnificent partner to Angel, and one that also evolves over subsequent viewings. He isn’t a bad police officer, just an inexperienced one, whose entire idea of his job comes from the American action flicks the film satirises. Hot Fuzz is as much about his journey to become a better officer as it is about murder conspiracies, and Angel is the perfect man to lead the way for him. Early on Angel mentions the ‘Official Vocab Guidelines’ – Butterman can then be seen reading this in between the action later on, and by the end of the film is correcting his colleagues himself. It’s little details like that which make the story feel so real and so impactful, and it’s these details that Wright excels at. There is so much more I could say about this movie, but frankly no words I could come up with will ever live up to just how fantastic it is. Hot Fuzz is Wright’s magnum opus,  one of the greatest British films out there, and a movie I am definitely watching again as soon as I finish writing this. I really suggest you do the same. It’s for the greater good.