In Search of a Perfect Movie: Hot Fuzz
With 2007’s Hot Fuzz, director Edgar Wright and co-screenwriter Simon Pegg straddle the line between reference and reverence, creating a modern masterpiece in the action genre. At first glance, one might be tempted to call the film a parody or a spoof, but it’s far from it—it’s a love letter to action cinema. Hot Fuzz doesn’t mock action movies, but instead celebrates them by hitting and subverting genre conventions, all while under the cover of comedy.
Wright and Pegg first collaborated on the British sitcom, Spaced, but made a name for themselves with the zombie comedy, Shaun of the Dead, in 2004. Shaun would be the first of the “Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy,” a pseudo-series exploring similar themes (with frequent collaborators Nick Frost and producer Nira Park), joined by Hot Fuzz and 2013’s sci-fi-infused The World’s End. Much like Hot Fuzz, the other Cornetto films, twist genre expectations and turn tropes on their heads, all with sly references to one another.
Though, best-known for the Cornetto Trilogy, Wright’s also directed comic adaptation Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) and crime-thriller Baby Driver (2017). (Wright was slated to write and direct 2015s Ant-Man for Marvel Studios, but eventually left over “creative differences;” he and writer Joe Cornish still share credit for the screenplay). With an eye for action and a keen sense of comedic timing, Wright’s one of today’s most distinct and engaging directors.
Pegg stars as Nicolas Angel, a straight-laced supercop who’s so good at his job the entire force resents him for making them look lazy by comparison—so much, in fact, that he’s reassigned from crime-infested London to the tiny village of Sandford, Gloucestershire. Sandford’s an idyllic, downright adorable town, and champion of the coveted “Village of the Year” award. There, Angel finds the local police to be incompetent, particularly Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Danny, son of the Chief Inspector of the local force, is an action movie junkie and an all-around buffoon. Naturally, they’re assigned as partners. After a grisly double homicide (or an accident, if you ask the locals) Angel finds Sandford not nearly as quaint as it seems.
So, why is Hot Fuzz, with its ridiculous premise and cast of comedians, a perfect movie? Well, because there isn’t anything out of place. Wright and Pegg hide a murder mystery beneath the veneer of comedy and a particularly tight one at that.
This isn’t to say the movie isn’t funny—it’s absolutely packed with jokes, and boasts a whip-smart script. However, unlike the motormouth improv of contemporary comedy (looking at you, Judd Apatow), every line and gag has a purpose. There’s never a scene that’s there just for the sake of a laugh. The dialogue is layered without being dense; almost every line foreshadows the future or calls back to an earlier setup. Everything has a point, even a goofy running joke about chasing a swan (in fact, a seemingly throwaway line about it proves crucial to Angel solving the mystery). Some bits are so subtle you’ll miss them if you blink.
That tautness extends to the technical aspects. When the film’s third act explodes into a frenzied, action-packed shootout, Wright uses every tool in the genre toolbox—the quick cut, slow motion, and even the Michael Bay Camera Spin™. Yes, it’s still loaded with jokes, but the editing and cinematography hold up with the best of the action canon. (Some of those edits work as jokes all on their own, particularly an eight-angle barrage of quick cuts that’d make even Bay jealous.) Most importantly, the action choreography is always legible; no matter how frenetic the editing gets, Wright never loses a shot and keeps our eyes where they should be.
Over a decade later, Hot Fuzz does more than just hold up. It rewards the repeat viewer. Rewatching it lets the audience in on the mystery, turning seemingly offhand jokes into key reveals. A second (or third, or fourth, or nth) viewing offers a whole new way to engage with the movie. Everything Wright does is precise and purposeful, deftly turning a tight script into a perfect genre piece.