A movie about a 70-year-old woman who goes all Charles Bronson on a bunch of local thugs? Half the fun of writing it must have been thinking up a title. Granny Get Your Gun immediately springs to mind, or, given the spaghetti western motifs in Jiří Hájek’s score, how about A Fistful of Werther’s? No, wait! A Mouthful of Dentures? Or, considering what must have been the film’s main influence, we could just go with Gran Torino…
Whatever, Radek Bajgar seems to have missed a trick on the title, ending up with the far more generic Teroristka, or The Lady Terrorist, or Shotgun Justice, as it is also known in English. Then again, there is more to the film than an old woman waving firearms around. As with his earlier thoughtful dramedy Tiger Theory, the director creates another terrific character for a senior actor. This time the beneficiary is Iva Janžurová, screen veteran of the demented Morgiana (where she played a dual role) and comedy classic Maracek, Pass Me the Pen!
Here she plays Marie, a kindly former teacher who lives in a cosy riverside settlement that is popular with retirees and weekenders from the city. She helps look after her ailing friend Eva (Eva Holubová), whose dying wish is to spend her remaining time on earth in her beloved holiday cottage by the water. However, her peace is shattered by the rowdy local bar pumping out music until the early hours of the morning.
Marie appeals to the mayor, Helena (Tatiana Vilhelmová), to uphold the bylaws and enforce quiet time overnight so Eva can get some rest. Unfortunately, Helena is having an affair with Mr Mach (Martin Hoffman), a slimebag businessman from the big city who, thanks to his power over the mayor, lords it over the settlement and its residents like a mobster.
Mach is a thoroughly despicable character. He treats the locals with utter contempt and has the megalomaniac scheme of creating a new sport called “Moto-biathlon” with the gang of roughneck hunters and bikers who hang out at the bar, thereby creating his own militia of armed hicks on motorcycles. Things escalate when Lenka (Kristína Svarinská), a single mother living next to Eva, sabotages a meeting of the two-wheeled thugs with a spray can of very strong glue.
As the situation worsens (spoiler alert: the dog doesn’t make it in this one), Mach blackmails Lenka and plans to buy out the land from under the community. In response, an increasingly desperate Marie takes things into her own hands. She visits her shady former student Trpělka (Pavel Liška) to buy a gun…
Bajgar, working from his lively screenplay, has plenty of fun with the practicalities of a sweet old lady preparing to commit murder. It is one thing obtaining a firearm, but those senile tremors can really mess with your aim, and Marie even gets a training montage. There is also enough edge to the screenplay that, while Mach obviously must die, it keeps us guessing until the final act about how exactly he will get his comeuppance.
The director keeps things light-hearted, but there are darker elements that give a moment’s pause and make you wonder if the film might have the courage to go all the way – could Marie actually waste this guy? He also has a few things to say about our current toxic culture. In one scene, Mach denies causing violence, but Marie scolds him for “creating the atmosphere” for it, recalling the words and actions of a certain former US President. Mach claims to be a religious guy and vows that he “has God’s back” against Muhammad, and, notably, his militia goons take target practice on darker-skinned dummies in inflatable dinghies. He also thinks that people have had enough of “Love thy neighbour”, reflecting the callousness and cruelty that some sections of society direct towards others less fortunate than themselves. As with some other would-be fascists who claim to be pious, it seems that Mach’s supposed devotion is part of his hustle.
That might make Shotgun Justice sound heavier than it is. For the most part, it’s just a fun movie that maximises the novelty value of a 70-something woman as the vigilante. It’s a testament to Janžurová’s skill that she is completely believable in the role, and she was nominated for Best Actress at the Czech Lion Awards.
She gets plenty of solid backup from a supporting cast of seasoned actors, including the redoubtable Holubová as the wily old friend Eva, and Vilhelmová, who seems to enjoy herself more than usual as the easily swayed mayor. Both actresses are often stranded in nagging wife-type roles so it’s good to see them have a bit more to do here. There is also a very winning turn from Liška as Marie’s former student, at times echoing the dynamic between Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad.
If I’m totally honest, I thought Shotgun Justice was going to be rubbish when I read the blurb. I was pleasantly surprised to find it an enjoyable romp with just a little bite, like a granny with a new set of false teeth. Worth checking out.
Shotgun Justice is showing on Czech Netflix at the time of writing.