Small Town Crime – 2018

Written and Directed by Eshom and Ian Nelms
Starring John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Vartan, Caity Lotz, James Lafferty, Robert Forster, Octavia Spencer, Jeremy Ratchford

There are a lot of people pulling for John Hawkes. He’s been a favorite of mine since I first saw him as that virulent convenience store rep shot up at the beginning of From Dusk Till Dawn. Even when it was all over for him, he went out insisting he did not give a signal. He found a good home in Deadwood, and he’s been nominated for Winter’s Bone. He should have been nominated for Sessions and Martha Marcy May Marlene. This time many believers, including co-star Spencer supplied enough resources for a 35 day shoot in Utah.

The story gets off to a rocky start. We see Mike Kendall (Hawkes) waking up hungover, then lifting weights until he pukes. His muscle car sits astride a fence that looks out of place. It’s a white picket fence, but it is only present to show that he drove over it the previous night. He spends a fruitless day checking on job applications, including one for reinstatement with the police department, who kicked him out for insobriety not long before.

He picks up his unemployment check and drinks it away with his brother in law Teddy (Anderson). Then he’s off in his car again. He wakes up in a field somewhere and on his way back discovers the body of a dying prostitute.

Before long, he’s hired by the girls’ grandfather (Forster) to bring in the persons responsible. This runs him slightly afoul of the detective (Vartan). I say slightly because he’s allowed to pursue the case, so long as he’s tethered to the department with updates. It’s an unusual departure from the rogue PI, but whatever gets us to the bad guys.

The bad guys are two extremely violent gunmen lead by the incredibly distinct Ratchford. They’re protecting some important people who got caught doing some bad stuff. What better way to quiet down the bribes than to send in two butchers to wreak havoc.

Simple as the story is, it begins to fall in place when Hawkes is allowed to move inside the character. The script is not a great work of ingenuity, and he spends the first half of the film working within the confines of a smaller scope Marlowe. When the stakes are raised, Hawkes is worth following.

The last act of the film is a mixed bag. There’s a pretty unique showdown that has the feel of classic gunfights in Matewan and Wind River. It’s not long enough or awkward enough to reach those two, but it is the most effective aspect of the film. The tag after the climax implies a buddy cop movie that we really hadn’t seen before. Pretty sure we won’t see it again, either.

Hawkes has a great supporting cast that is not used all that well. Collins, Jr. and Ratchford are fine. Forster, Anderson and Spencer (playing Kendall’s adoptive sister) could do a whole lot more. Forster is another one of my favorites, and its seeing him that made me go for this film. I get it though. It’s not their movie. If only it had been their”s too.

(*** out of *****)

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