×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Small Town Crime’

John Hawkes goes down some mean streets as an alcoholic ex-cop hunting a killer in this entertaining neo-noir melodrama.

With:
John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Vartan, James Lafferty, Daniel Sunjata, Caity Lotz, Jeremy Ratchford, Don Harvey, Stefanie Scott, Dale Dickey.

It looks like John Hawkes is carving a niche for himself on the seedier streets of neo-noir. Two years ago, the impressively protean character actor essayed a low-rent shamus who discovers himself — and finds himself wanting — while searching for a missing young woman in Dennis Hauck’s intriguingly time-scrambled “Too Late.” Now he’s back on the case as another scuffed-up gumshoe in “Small Town Crime,” a hardboiled melodrama with a heart of tarnished gold. Written and directed by sibling filmmakers Ian and Eshom Nelms with equal measures of respect and skepticism for pulp conventions, the movie comes across as neither pastiche nor parody, but rather as a seriously down-and-dirty crime story with a savage sense of humor. The just-complicated-enough plot could pass for a lesser-known narrative of Elmore Leonard. At the center of it all, Hawkes stands tall — or at least he tries to, even when his character is staggering drunkenly, or passing out altogether.

Hawkes plays Mike Kendall, an alcoholic ex-cop who was booted off the force after he inadvertently caused the deaths of his partner and an innocent bystander while policing under the influence. He’s borderline pathetic in his self-delusion as he doggedly attempts to regain his job, even as he continues to drink himself into oblivion on a daily, and nightly, basis. He’s the sort of heavy-duty inebriate who’ll invite a buddy to close down a few bars after they attend an AA meeting.

One morning after a typical bender, he discovers a woman left for dead on the side of a road. She never wakes up before she expires — but her death triggers something in Kendall, and he becomes obsessed with discovering who killed her. At first he tells his adopted sister (Octavia Spencer), his amiable brother-in-law (Anthony Anderson), and himself, that he’s hellbent on solving the crime only so he can get back on the force. The more he searches for clues, however, the more obvious it becomes — even to Kendall, eventually — that he’s really after a shot at redemption.

Posing as a private detective, complete with cheaply printed business cards, Kendall interacts with such colorful characters — portrayed by the splendidly ragtag supporting cast — as Steve Yendel (Robert Forster), the victim’s well-to-do grandfather, and Mood (Clifton Collins Jr.), a pimp with inordinate pride in his work. He soon pieces together clues that indicate the murder victim was a discontented rich girl who drifted into drugs and prostitution. She made the mistake of blackmailing the wrong people; and two other hookers who collaborated on this ill-starred scheme may be next on a hired killer’s hit list.

In his vivid performance as Kendall, Hawkes deftly balances scrawny vulnerability with an aggressive swagger — the ex-cop takes childish delight, and clearly overcompensates, while gunning the engine of his muscle car. All the while, he suggests that we should never take his character’s moments of apparent sobriety at face value. When someone point-blank accuses him of being drunk, he casually responds: “I’m comfortable.” He sounds equally nonchalant when he explains to a curious floozy that, yes, Kelly (Spencer), his supportive but not infinitely patient sister, and Teddy (Anderson), her loving husband, are African-Americans, and that he was damn lucky to have been adopted at early age into a family where he wasn’t brutally beaten on a routine basis.

The Nelms brothers tip their caps unobtrusively to certain films (a bespectacled hit man appears to be a visual allusion to “Bullitt”) and indicate they learned their lessons well while studying a few others. There is a confident, no-frills efficiency to scenes of action and violence — especially a climactic shootout in a train yard — and a snarky riff on the cliché of characters who define themselves through their choice of vehicles. (In the latter area, Collin’s flamboyant Mood actually outdoes Kendall by driving around in tricked-out purple ’68 Chevy Impala.) At one point, it seems a tad odd that Forster’s vengeful grandfather suddenly, and inexplicably, is very handy with a high-powered rifle. But the filmmakers simply present this to the audience as a given, as if to say, “Hey, relax. This is Robert Forster. In this kind of movie, of course he’d be good with a gun.” And, really, that makes perfect sense.

Film Review: 'Small Town Crime'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 17, 2017. Running time: 91 MIN.

Production: A Saban Films release of an Avva Pictures presentation of a 6 Foot Films, John J. Kelley Entertainment production. (International sales: Preferred Content.) Producers: John J. Kelly, Brad Johnson, Parisa Caviani. Executive producers: Mehrdad Elie, Octavia Spencer. Co-producer: Ben Rosenblatt.

Crew: Directors, writers: Ian Nelms, Eshom Nelms. Camera (color): Johnny Derango. Editor: Traton Lee.

With: John Hawkes, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Clifton Collins Jr., Michael Vartan, James Lafferty, Daniel Sunjata, Caity Lotz, Jeremy Ratchford, Don Harvey, Stefanie Scott, Dale Dickey.

More Film

  • Doppelgänger Red (Lupita Nyong'o) and Adelaide

    Box Office: 'Us' on Track for Second-Highest Debut of 2019 With $67 Million

    Jordan Peele’s “Us” is on its way to scaring up one of the biggest debuts of 2019, with an estimated $67 million from 3,741 North American locations. Should estimates hold, “Us” will be able to claim several milestones: the highest debut for an original horror movie (the biggest launch for any horror pic goes to [...]

  • 'The Dirt' Review: A Mötley Crüe

    Film Review: 'The Dirt'

    A long time ago, the words sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll carried a hint of danger. The lifestyle did, too, but I’m talking about the phrase. It used to sound cool (back around the time the word “cool” sounded cool). But sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll has long since passed into the realm [...]

  • James Newton Howard Danny Elfman

    New Trend in Concert Halls: Original Music by Movie Composers — No Film Required

    Movie and TV composers are in greater demand than ever for, surprisingly, new music for the concert hall. For decades, concert commissions for film composers were few and far between. The increasing popularity of John Williams’ film music, and his visibility as conductor of the Boston Pops in the 1980s and ’90s, led to his [...]

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba in Talks to Join Andy Serkis in 'Mouse Guard'

    Idris Elba is in negotiations to join Andy Serkis and Thomas Brodie-Sangster in Fox’s fantasy-action movie “Mouse Guard” with “Maze Runner’s” Wes Ball directing. Fox is planning a live-action movie through performance capture technology employed in the “Planet of the Apes” films, in which Serkis starred as the ape leader Caesar. David Peterson created, wrote, [...]

  • Zac Efron Amanda Seyfried

    Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfried Join Animated Scooby-Doo Film as Fred and Daphne

    Zac Efron has signed on to voice Fred Jones while Amanda Seyfried will voice Daphne Blake in Warner Bros.’ animated Scooby-Doo feature film “Scoob.” It was revealed earlier this month that Will Forte had been set to voice Norville “Shaggy” Rogers, while Gina Rodriguez would be voicing Velma Dinkley. The mystery-solving teens and their talking [...]

  • 'Staff Only' Review: Cultures And Values

    Film Review: 'Staff Only'

    Marta (Elena Andrada) is 17, from Barcelona and alternately bored and mortified to be on a Christmas vacation to Senegal with her estranged dad, Manel (Sergi López), and annoying little brother, Bruno (Ian Samsó). For her, the freedoms of imminent adulthood, such as the occasional poolside mojito, are tantalizing close but still technically forbidden, rather [...]

  • Rocketman

    Candid 'Rocketman' Dares to Show Elton John as 'Vulnerable,' 'Damaged,' 'Ugly'

    Elton John movie “Rocketman” dares to portray the singer’s personality early in his career to have been, at times, “ugly,” Taron Egerton – who plays the pop star – told an audience at London’s Abbey Road Studios Friday, following a screening of 15 minutes of footage from the film. It is a candid portrayal, showing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content