One person’s trope is another person’s cliche. Which side of that dividing line you stand on will determine how much you enjoy Small Town Crime, the new noir thriller from writer/directors Eshom and Ian Nelms, starring John Hawkes, Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson and Octavia Spencer. If you enjoy watching a top-notch cast deliver a solid, but familiar, tale of corruption and redemption, you will find a great deal to like here. If you need a crime film to offer a unique, original spin on the genre, offering something you haven’t seen before, then you may need to look elsewhere.
John Hawkes (Too Late, Winter’s Bone) plays an alcoholic ex-cop who inadvertently gets his partner killed by being intoxicated on the job. On a morning after one of his many benders, he discovers a woman on the side of the highway, beaten nearly to death. Posing as a private detective, he embarks on an investigation that quickly spins out of control. Slowly, but surely, he finds himself drawn into a local world of prostitution and organized crime.
The joys offered by Small Town Crime are found in the effortlessness of its execution. It walks a straight and true narrative line. The dialogue is crisp without being terse. The performances are vivid without descending into melodrama. Given its noir tone, the atmosphere is appropriately bleak, but the film never wallows in its seedy surroundings. Small Town Crime lives in the dark corners of town, but it avoids exploiting its subject matter for cheap thrills.
Each role is perfectly cast, and even the minor characters are given their moments to shine. Veteran character actor Clifton Collins, Jr. (Triple 9, Man Down) plays Mood, a gun-wielding pimp, and steals every scene he’s in which isn’t easy to do when you’re sharing the screen with the likes of John Hawkes and Robert Forster. At first blush, having the only Latino cast member playing a pimp might seem to be in poor taste. But the deft screenplay renders Mood as a multi-faceted character who just might be more honorable than the Caucasian characters populating this fictional town.
Small Town Crime clocks in at a lean 90 minutes, and the narrative never lags. There’s something about John Hawkes’ face and physicality that screams “private investigator”. The film is a perfect marriage of actor and material. It makes a nice double feature with Dennis Hauck’s 2016 collaboration with Hawkes, Too Late. Its small town noir vibe also pairs nicely with the 2017 crime film Sweet Virginia starring Jon Bernthal.
January is considered a cinematic dumping ground, but every now and then a little gem comes along to tide film lovers over until something better comes along. Small Town Crime may not rise to the level of a diamond in the rough, but it comes close.
[Small Town Crime is currently in limited theatrical release and is available on most VOD platforms.]
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.