Looking for your annual rural crime/drama/black comedy/character study fix? Well, Three Billboards, which I reviewed the other day, provides that with something more illusory and profound. If you’re after one that’s a bit more old school and straightforward, check out the Nelms Brother’s Small Town Crime, a brutal, breezy thriller starring John Hawkes, an actor I remember from the fringes of the 90’s who seems to have gone newly platinum these days thanks to an Oscar nomination for 2010’s Winter’s Bone. He’s hilariously sympathetic here as a raging alcoholic ex-cop who stumbles right into the middle of a murder ring with the crosshairs latched onto a group of local underage prostitutes. Never one to back down once he gets a few cold ones in him before noon, he’s on the case between sessions at the dive bar and inebriated joyrides in his souped up muscle car. There’s a slightly off kilter, surreal quality to his story and that of those around him, a coming and going sense that these are a cartoonish series of events that aren’t really happening, when one looks at the supporting characters. Robert Forster has never been more deadpan or watchable as the tycoon grandfather of one of the slain hookers, a hands-on gent who isn’t afraid to dust off his giant scoped rifle to help out. He’s joined by outlandish Latino pimp Mood (Clifton Collins Jr., who needs way more roles), both of them assisting Hawkes in his crusade. Even the psychotic hitman (Jeremy Ratchford) dispatched to kill everyone in sight has a distinctly ‘out there’, roadrunner vibe. But Hawkes anchors the whole deal with the mopey, sad-sack realism of his character, a loser who’s dead-end existence has been given a new lease on legacy. His best buddy Anthony Anderson and wife Octavia Spencer give the plot some gravity too, a neat seesaw effect that sits opposite Forster and Collins exaggerated antics. The film has a funny way of both ambling along at it’s own pace and jumping out at you with warp speed jump cuts and brazen, bloody violence. The dialogue is pure poetry in areas and knowing camp in others, neatly balanced. Don Harvey and veteran tough gal Dale Dickey have great bits as salty bartenders, while Daniel Sunjata and haggard looking ex-pretty boy (remember him in Monster In Law with Jane Fonda and J-Lo?) Michael Vartan play two local detectives who are always frustrated to be a step behind Hawkes, who plays off the grid and close to the chest. Small Town Crime is a small time film, but the craft gone into bringing it to our screens couldn’t be bigger or more commendable from all angles. Highly recommended.
Sand is about as tasteful and memorable as it’s title, a bland, pointless and inconsequential piece of low grade fluff that starts nowhere and ends up just about the same. Funnily enough, it attracted the attention of some fairly notable actors who show up to loiter around in a boring family melodrama that barely registers past a flatline, and wander off again without bothering to bring their character arcs to a satisfactory close. Michael Vartan is some California stud who returns home to the surfing town he grew up in only to run afoul of his nasty criminal father (Harry Dean Stanton), and two deadbeat half brothers (John Hawkes and some other dude). They’ve shown up to lay low from the cops, but instead have eyes for Vartan’s cutie pie girlfriend (Kari Wuhrur) which is where the vague trouble starts. I do mean vague, as no one really makes an effort to convince us that these characters care, let alone know about what’s going on, and any sense of real danger is stifled by lethargy. Denis Leary usually crackles with witty intensity, but not even he seems to want to play, a sorry excuse for a villain who mopes around looking like he forgot his lines and just wants to go home. Norman Reedus is wasted on a quick bit as Wuhrur’s surfer brother, and there’s equally forgettable cameos from Jon Lovitz, Emilio Estevez and Julie Delpy too, but it all goes nowhere. There isn’t even any kind of adherence to genre, no Mexican standoff, no ramp up to revenge, it just kind of drops off and leaves an absence of anything interesting in the air. Some cool Cali scenery that could be Big Sur if I remember correctly, but even then you’re better off ditching this one and going to the beach for real.
One Hour Photo is as stark and unnerving as the clinical, creepy photo negatives being developed in the darkroom of your local London Drugs, or whatever the equivalent is stateside. Back in the days before the social media boom, every single photographic memento passed through those hallowed halls, and through the hands of the hard working folks at the photo counter. One such person is Seymour Parrish (Robin Williams), a sweet, good natured guy with a subtle and growing offset in his personality. He loves his job, and finds solace and ritual in handling the precious memoirs of the masses, even getting to know many of them in a friendly manner. He takes a particular shine to the Yorkin family (Connie Nielsen and Michael Vartan), gradually becoming obsessed with the life they have that he observes through the constant stream of photos he develops. Friendly soon turns to freaky as he becomes a bit too fascinated in them, and he finally takes up the mantle of disturbed stalker, digging up dirty secrets they have that he has no right to know about, and even less to interfere with. It’s a nightmare for any unsuspecting family to got through, but the real horror story is Seymour’s damaged psyche, set off by this idyllic lifestyle he watches from haunted eyes. Williams has the hard task of making him sympathetic, which he does, but we are only willing to give pity at arms reach; this is a scary, twisted man we see, with demons bottled up so tight he isn’t even aware they exist anymore, until they come crawling forth for a psychologically naked and raw final sequence that will leave you reeling. An unpleasent film in almost every way, bathed in an eerie sickness that matches the sheet white fluorescent glow of the store that is Seymour’s world, externally and in his tragic, broken mind. Bring a steady set of nerves and a strong stomach.