Film Review: Even Al Pacino Can’t Save Hangman From Hanging Itself

Have you ever watched a movie in which there’s a funeral scene near the end, and the only people in the front row of mourners are the cast members of the film you’re watching? It’s as if the deceased had no life and knew no other people outside of the ones in the movie. It’s a personal cinematic pet peeve of mine, and all it tells me is that the filmmakers didn’t want to incur the extra expense of hiring extras, or worse, hiring more actors whose relationships to the person in the coffin they’d have to explain.

Welcome to the crime thriller Hangman, which features just such a sequence in a film that seems like it’s only about five or six different people, even though it’s meant to be the story of a particularly nasty serial killer, presumably terrorizing an entire community.

The killer in question is nicknamed “the Hangman” because he not only strings up his victims by the neck, but he also carves a letter into their chest just before he does it as part of an ongoing game of hangman that he has scrawled somewhere near the crime scene. Got it?

So the mysteries are, who is the killer? Why is he killing a new victim every 24 hours at 11pm? And how are his victims linked?

Al Pacino in Hangman

The third question is the first one answered. Because he carved the badge numbers of two police officers—Det. Will Ruiney (Karl Urban) and retired Det. Ray Archer (Al Pacino)—into a desk, he seems to be targeting these murders around them somehow. The older Archer retired shortly after Ruiney’s wife was brutally murdered a year earlier, and neither one has really gotten over the incident.

In a strange stroke of coincidence, Ruiney is being forced to allow journalist Christi Davies (Brittany Snow) to shadow him, and somehow this means she gets to follow him into every active crime scene, sometimes seconds after the crime has been committed—meaning the killer is likely just a few steps away. Without much convincing, Archer comes out of retirement to help solve the murders, and the colorful dynamic between the old partners picks up like it never ended.

Hangman was shot in Georgia, but I think it might be set somewhere in Louisiana, if Pacino’s hilarious slow Cajun drawl is any indication. I’ll give director Johnny Martin (a former stunt performer and coordinator, who also directed Vengeance: A Love Story) credit: if he told Pacino to dial back his usual full-throttle delivery, the iconic actor listened to him, because there are times when Pacino is barely audible. Even so, I liked the chemistry between Pacino and Urban; there’s a genuine affection between them, and their combined powers of deduction actually make sense more than half the time.

The performances are all serviceable, but the big downside to Hangman is that every woman with a speaking role (and a few who don’t speak) are little more than potential victims for the killer. That’s not to say he only kills women, but when you see Snow or Sarah Shahi (who plays Ruiney’s captain, who happens to be in a wheelchair), you know instantly that at some point, they’re going to be strung up.

The other big problem the film has is that there’s absolutely no way for the audience to play along in the great mystery of who the killer is. We simply aren’t given the information, and we never meet the Hangman until almost the exact minute the cops figure out his identity. The reasons for his psychotic behavior are sketchy at best, and the film ends with a shot that might be the single dumbest reveal of the year. Lord save me from screenwriters who don’t know how to end their movies with dignity.

You could do worse over your holiday weekend, but you could do so much better too. Only hardcore Pacino fans need apply.

The film opens Friday, December 22, at AMC Loews Woodridge 18 and On Demand.

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.