Small Town Crime
Starring John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson, Clifton Collins Jr, Michael Vartan,
Hawkes (Everest) performance is the selling point of Small Town Crime, a movie that can’t really put its finger on a genre. From a marketing stand point, Small Town Crime with it’s common, non-descriptive title, is ideal films for SXSW. Outside the festival, I am not sure who or where the audience for a film like this is. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer’s popularity coming off Hidden Figures, hosting SNL will help generate interest for this project, but what she brings to the film is lackluster in comparison to the other actors. It’s half dark comedy, half suspense thriller, mirroring the duel persona Hawkes is serving, but the energy ebbs and flows depending on the scene at hand.
Years after a tragic night on duty, Mike Kendall (Hawkes) is still coming to terms with his suspension from the police force, and the mess he caused. His alcoholic dependency keeps him from landing any reputable job, which has sister Kelly (Spencer) and her husband (Anderson) helping him with bills. Following his usual drunken nights, sleeping it off on the side of the road; Mike is heading home when he discovers a young woman’s body on the side of the road. It’s a sobering experience for him, putting him instantly back into the protect and serve frame of reference. He becomes obsessed in trying to find the woman’s killer, teaming with the victim’s rich conservative grandfather (Forster) and a local pimp (Collins) to go after these guys responsible.
The editing seems unwilling to trim the fat from script subsections that fill out the running time.
Many themes in Small Town Crime, addiction being a reoccurring festival exploration favorite. The script has no intention of exploring alcoholism nor championing recovery. In fact, if anything, it advocates controlling debilitating addiction at a whim which isn’t a very good message when the addictive element is never managed as part of the narrative. However, Hawkes plays both sides of the character with a realism and acute sense of humanity that makes him endearing. It helps that “drunk Mike” dresses like a bum, yet when he puts on his private investigator suit, the audience is very aware of where we are in each scene. Spencer in her limited screen plays the authoritarian sister, while funny man Anderson, Collins, and even Forster play it for laughs.
What starts as a dark comedy has curious flashes of intense violence. There is a high-octane shootout during the third act that drifts far into the realm of fantasy and even grotesque. In one of the film’s most memorable scenes, Dale Dickey (Hell or High Water) delivers a scene stealing performance as a crusty barmaid validating her knowledge of badge birds. Small Town Crimes has momentary greatness but there is something missing. It struggles to balance the comedy and extreme violent content with characters that seem overloaded. The editing seems unwilling to trim the fat from script subsections that fill out the running time, but don’t aid the narrative or element of suspense. The title also doesn’t fit or accurately portray what’s going on here, which will make this a tough sell to a paying audience.
Struggles to find the right rhythm for the opposing thematic elements.