Small Town Crime SXSW Movie Review
Film is reviewed from the 2017 SXSW Film Festival screening
We see that we are in a nice neighborhood, with the exception of one house, where a muscle car is sitting on the front lawn, having crashed through a picket fence. The garbage door opens, and we see ex-cop Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) in a t-shirt and jeans. He looks at his car briefly, knowing that he was the one who crashed the car in the first place. We watch as Mike benches more and more weight, while also drinking a beer or three.
We see Mike getting ready for what we think is work, as he puts on a dress shirt and tie. He gets a phone call, and it’s bad news, it’s unlikely that they will reinstate Mike to the police force. He hangs up, and curses then heads to his car in the front yard. Mike starts up the car, and it roars to life, making a huge noise. He backs up the car, then peels down the road laying tire marks and making a lot of noise as his neighbors react angrily to the display of muscle car power.
We see Mike go to several job interviews, failing badly in all of them. There is hope at one interview, some sort of office setting. The hiring manager seems to be inclined to hire Mike, that is until Mike warns her that he isn’t much good till noon, due to the amount of daily drinking that he does. We see Mike happily picking up his unemployment check, having a present exchange with the government worker and we can tell this dance has been going on for quite a while.
Mike heads to his local watering hole, where everyone greets him by his name. The place is jumping, and Mike is right at home in this element. Later we see Mike and another man (Anthony Anderson) being thrown out of the establishment. By both the bouncers and Mike’s reaction, this is something that happens on a regular basis. Both men are drunk but Mike’s friend tries to talk Mike into riding with him with an offer for Mike to crash at his house. Mike declines the offer and takes off in his muscle car, leaving a cloud of dust in his wake. We see Mike buy a six-pack and then head down the road. While driving Mike flashes back a year or so to a shooting that he was involved in, one that caused his partner to die from. We next see that it’s morning and Mike wakes up in the middle of a field, with his car have been abandoned several hundred yards from where Mike is laying. He gets up, finds his car and heads back for the road. Mike is moving down the isolation road when he suddenly notices something that is in a ditch by the side of the road. He stops and discovers a bloody and battered woman, who is barely alive. Mike drives her to the nearest hospital and waits for the detectives to show up. At that moment Mike has decided to try and find out what happened to this girl, no matter who or what gets in his way.
This is an old fashioned hard drinking murder mystery from writer/directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms. Small Town Crime is the kind of story that the hero isn’t above breaking a few laws to solve the case. Part dark comedy, part private eye film, it’s a look into the sleazy life of the world of dive bars, boozy patrons and prostitution with a little bit of backstabbing thrown in for fun. It’s a trip you will want to take because of John Hawkes. Hawkes is one of those rare actors that as soon as he appears on the screen, we are already rooting for his character, no matter how many flaws his character has. Hawkes is a gifted actor that can do low key comedy, then shift to high-stakes drama with ease. The hard drinking, guilt-ridden unemployed former cop Mike is the perfect sad-sack character for Hawkes to play and he seems to relish every moment on screen in this part.
The supporting cast is exceptionally strong, though I have no idea why Octavia Spencer, playing Mike’s adopted sister, is being used in almost a throwaway role. It’s as if Spencer has decided to do what Michael Caine did in the 80’s and be in every film made in this decade. Anthony Anderson is an excellent addition as the sometimes drinking partner of Mike’s that just happens to be married to Spencer’s character. Anderson is a good comedic sounding board for Hawkes’ character and their scenes together are some of the best of the film. Anytime you have a P.I. film and you can get Robert Forster in it; you know your film will just be that much better. Forster plays the grandfather of the woman that Mike finds. Forster’s character hires Mike to find who hurt his granddaughter, with the understanding that Mike should use any means necessary to make that person pay for hurting his family. Michael Vartan plays a detective that is willing to let Mike have a little leeway in the investigation, much more than most of the force that is giving Mike the evil eye. I especially enjoyed the performance of Clifton Collins, Jr. who plays a purple Impala driving pimp with the name of Mood, who decides to help Mike because it’s his girls that are being attacked. Each character is well-defined, unique and perfectly match Mike’s way of life.
This is a film that someone like old pulp fiction writer Mickey Spillane or even any character that the Coen brothers have created would be happy to be in. It’s a world of booze, dead bodies, and bad intentions; thank God we have John Hawkes to lead us through it! My Rating: Full Price
My movie rating system from Best to Worst: 1). I Would Pay to See it Again 2). Full Price 3). Bargain Matinee 4). Cable 5). You Would Have to Pay Me to See it Again
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