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1 review, 2 user ratings

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Small Town Crime
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Generic Title, Premium Film"
4 stars

There was once a time when a film like “Small Town Crime” would have easily gotten a theatrical release and while it almost certainly would not have become a box-office sensation, my guess is that it would have received enough attention to allow it to find a wider audience once it hit home video and cable—the kind of thing that lifted the likes as “Cutter’s Way,” “Red Rock West” and “The Last Seduction” out of obscurity and transformed them into cult favorites. Alas, that is no longer the case and not only is it primarily being pushed as a VOD release, with only token play in a small handful of theaters, it is liable to get lost amid the glut of similarly distributed product that arrives each week. This is a shame because while the film is far from perfect, it has plenty of virtues and might actually strike a chord with some viewers—if they knew it even existed, of course.

Our anti-hero is Mike Kendall (John Hawkes), a former cop who might have been good in his profession if it were not for his pronounced drinking problem. One fateful night, however, he was drunk when he and his partner pulled a driver over and the end result was a bloodbath that led to him being kicked off the force. For most people, such an incident would serve as a wake-up call to change their ways but Mike has not come anywhere near hitting bottom. He now spends his days going through the motions of applying for jobs in order to continue to receive unemployment benefits (at one point torpedoing his own chances when it looks as if he might actually get hired) and his nights drinking as much as he can at the local dives before getting kicked out. He still has his adopted sister (Octavia Spencer) and her husband (Anthony Anderson), who happens to be his childhood best friend, in his corner but even their patience with him is beginning to run short. Mike is astute enough to know that his life is a mess but has absolutely nothing going for him that would compel him to even attempt to change his ways.

One morning, after waking up in the middle of a remote field after yet another bender, Mike is driving home when he finds a badly wounded girl dumped by the side of the road. He rushes her to the hospital but she dies soon afterwards. This sparks something in Mike and he is determined to find out who killed her and why, even going so far as to pose as a private detective in order to get the girl’s estranged grandfather (Robert Forster) to hire him to pursue the case. This leads to a series of encounters with pimps, hookers, drunks, hitmen and resentful cops and as Mike makes his way through them, he not only uncovers a sordid tale of sex, blackmail and murder, he also shows the kind of investigator that he might have been if he hadn’t let the booze overtake him.

Truth be told, the mystery aspect of “Small Town Crime” that has been devised by writer-directors Eshom Helms and Ian Helms leaves much to be desired—most viewers will probably regard the explanations regarding who killed the girl and why with little more than an underwhelmed shrug. However, in many of the best mystery movies—films like “The Thin Man,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Big Sleep,” “The Long Goodbye” and “The Big Lebowski” come to mind—the actual details of whodunnit and why are usually the least interesting thing about it. (I cannot begin to count the number of times I have seen “The Thin Man” over the years and yet I continue to be a bit fuzzy regarding those details.) What those films have in common are snappy dialogue, interesting characters and perfectly cast actors—the kind of elements that can stand the test of time. “Small Town Crime” has an abundance of all three of those elements, especially the latter, and it is all the better for it. People like Forster, Anderson and Collins are all playing fairly standard characters for this type of genre filmmaking but each one finds an approach to them that makes them feel fresher than they have any right to be. Even the smaller parts are convincingly cast in a way that helps lend a sense of authenticity to the material and prevents it from coming across as cliched and too overly reliant on coincidence.

The best thing about “Small Town Crime,” however, is the performance by John Hawkes as Mike. You have seen him in any number of films over the years (he can currently be seen as Frances McDormand’s ex-husband in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) but almost always in supporting roles. Given the rare chance to topline a film, he runs with it and delivers one of his best performances to date. Throughout the film, he lets us see Mike as a guy who is smart, funny and fundamentally decent as he is struggling to put his life back together while at the same time emphasizing just how precarious of a position he is in. Again, this is not necessarily a radically original character but Hawkes makes it work throughout as he shows Mike doggedly trying to find justice for the dead girl and redemption for himself. Put it this way—if “Small Town Crime” were to somehow manage to attract an audience despite its lack of theatrical play and someone hit upon the idea of making a series with Hawkes playing this character (a development that the film kind of sets up in the closing scenes), I would be totally on board for that.

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originally posted: 01/19/18 11:03:10
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2017 South by Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

2/14/18 Jack This movie thinks it's more clever than it is. The writing & acting are awful. Avoid it. 1 stars
1/29/18 Langano There's a reason it didn't get a theatrical release. 2 stars
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  DVD: 20-Mar-2018


  DVD: 20-Mar-2018

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