Scotland, PA
Other // R // February 15, 2002
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted February 10, 2002
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Movie:

"Scotland, PA" is the debut of writer/director Billy Morisette, who came up with the idea for this film when he was a teenager working at Dairy Queen. Morisette hasn't done the impossible, but he's certainly done the unexpected: make Shakespeare's "Macbeth" not only into a comedy, but into a comedy that revolves around fast food joints in the 70's. Suprisingly, not only does this attempt work well, it's occasionally brilliant and often very funny and clever.

The film starts by introducing us to Joe "Mac" McBeth (James LeGros) and his wife Pat (Maura Tierney), two low-key (but very much in-love) workers at a local greasy spoon called Duncans, owned by Norm Duncan (James Rebhorn). When it becomes apparent that Duncan isn't appreciative of Joe's ideas (such as a drive-up window), Pat and Joe plan to kill Duncan and take over the place. Things don't go quite according to plan though and Duncan ends up in the frier.

Mac and Pat get think they've got things covered. Duncan's sons, Malcolm (Tom Guiry) and Donald (Geoff Dunsworth) sell the restaurant to Mac and Pat, unaware of what they've done. Soon enough, the run-down diner has been transformed into a slick eatery that's doing superb business. While "Scotland, PA" is simply witty and funny in the film's first half, it's not until chief inspector McDuff (Christopher Walken) enters the picture that the film starts to really get going. This is easily the best Walken performance I've seen in years - it's Best Supporting Actor-worthy, but will likely go unrecognized due to the fact that the film's out so early in the year.

It's Walken that ties everything together. As McDuff, he's relaxed and has remarkably funny comedic timing, making sharp jokes, but also holding the character's cards close, not revealing what he's thinking about the situation he's presented with. The result is a tense back-and-forth as one side tries to fool the other. As the stress level rises, so does the drama and violence, but what suprised me was how well "Scotland" slides from comedy into seriously darker tones; while not always effective, this second half works better than I'd expected, mainly thanks to the performances; Legros does a pretty suprising 180 from slightly goofy to stone-cold. Tierny (Morisette's real-life wife) is also at her very best - previously known for playing intelligent, good-hearted characters, she truely gets into playing the calculating Pat. There's also some good supporting performances from Kevin Corrigan, as well as Amy Smart, Andy Dick and Timothy Levitch as three hippies who haunt Mac.

Morisette's film also succeeds in creating atmosphere. The costumes and music are purely 70's, down the last detail. The cinematography by Wally Pfister ("Memento") is also superb. While not everything works - and there are a few little patches of comedy and drama that are a bit flat in comparison to the rest - the cast is energetic and very entertaining, especially Walken, who's priceless in the role. "Scotland, PA" is a suprising success - an original and very enjoyable comedic take on Shakespeare's tale.

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