Small Town Crime Review
Small Time Gem
Indie filmmaker brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms' underappreciated gem Small Town Crime is a nice little neo-noir detective story starring the ever-reliable John Hawkes.Although the director brothers haven't done a huge amount you would recognise in their years in the business, they've landed a gem in Small Town Crime, channeling hints of Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler, as they transform Hawkes' (badly) functioning alcoholic disgraced ex-cop into a makeshift self-titled Private Investigator to investigate a crime the police don't want him anywhere near.The Nelms brothers surround Hawkes' unlikely anti-hero with an eclectic cast of familiar faces, and feed him a witty and reasonably memorable script, then set him off in this seedy little universe, slowly unspooling a story that - rather refreshingly - leaves you guessing throughout. With a stylish veneer and a smooth soundtrack, it's a quality little gem that gambles heavily on Hawkes and wins big as a result.
Hawkes is a great little actor. He just never reached the A-list, taking on bit parts like the gas station clerk in From Dusk til Dawn until he earned himself an Academy Award nomination for the great little early Jennifer Lawrence drama, Winter's Bone, going on to make a name for himself with choice parts in smaller productions like Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Sessions, as well as a great main role in the excellent HBO series Deadwood. 2015 saw him deliver another underrated gem - also available on Netflix - in Dennis Hauck's non-linear neo-noir Too Late, and stepping into Private Investigator shoes for the first time. It's clearly a good fit, and his return to duty in Small Town Crime is a good choice, trading in the same laconic-but-dogged vibes that defined Elliot Gould's take on Marlowe in Altman's The Long Goodbye, or Jack Nicholson's Jake Gittes in Chinatown.
Despite the low-key production barely appearing on anybody's radar (it did the Festival rounds last year before being picked up for worldwide distribution by Netflix at the end of March 2018), it actually boasts a pretty impressive cast. From Anthony Anderson (Black-ish, Exit Wounds) to Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures, The Help), Clifton Collins Jr. (Triple 9, Westworld) to Caity Lotz (The Machine, Legends of Tomorrow), with veteran Robert Forster (Jackie Brown) rounding out the lot, there's some great support for Hawkes although, ultimately he could have carried this all by himself (as is arguably even more evident in Too Late).
A quality little gem that gambles heavily on Hawkes and wins big as a result.
The story takes a standard noir detective tale - which could have easily been something from the revisionist era of Altman or Polanski's classics - knows its own heritage, throwing in the kind of classic muscle cars and menacing antagonist that might give you flashbacks to Peter Yates' iconic Steve McQueen classic Bullitt, but imbuing the film with modern sensibilities too, gifting it a quirky and unpredictable flavour that can be, at times, both tragic and thrilling, sardonic and satisfying, and throwing some surprisingly unrestrained gore into the violence for good measure.
It's nothing strikingly new, but it's a nice little detective tale nonetheless; a great little lead for Hawkes who continues to be a reliable name to watch out for, no matter how small the story. And despite landing on Netflix on the last day of March with no fanfare whatsoever, it's well worth checking out.
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