Movie Review : Small Town Crime (2017)
If you're working on a smart, rugged independent detective movie, don't title it Small Town Crime. It's the dumbest thing you could do, next to titling Fedora Man or Alcoholic Ex-Cop Looking for Redemption. If you're not making the sequel to Snake on a Plane, nobody wants you to undersell your movie's thesis in its title. It's why I've held on watching Small Town Crime since it came out, this winter. If you only have your title to sell your movie to unsuspecting audiences, underselling it will... well, make it underperform. Because Small Town Crime is pretty good. Not great, but a pretty good detective movie.
Small Town Crime isn't really about a small town crime. It's the story of a policeman named Mike Kendall (my guy John Hawkes) who gets suspended from the force after getting caught inebriated during a shooting incident. Thrown into a self-destructive cycle, Mike finds a dying girl in a vacant lot after waking up from a difficult bender. He drives her to the hospital in a panic and take on himself to find out what happened to her. Nobody gives a shit about her. Nobody gives a shit about Mike. He sees her as his one chance at redemption.
I'm sure you've noticed already by reading the synopsis, but Small Town Crime is a meat-and-potatoes kind of mystery: detective finds damsel in distress - discovers she really is a hooker - unravels an underlying conspiracy - the end. If you read/watch mysteries with the same enthusiasm than I do, you've seen a variation of this plot at least ten or twelve times, if not more. And, you know, there's no real indication it's happening in a small town at all. For all I know, a place where there are hookers, pimps, automatic weapons and at least two lethal gun fights in the span of a couple months is at least decently populated.
I'm taking a piss at Small Town Crime's clumsy presentation, but I believe it's a film worth watching. Because it's a movie about redemption that's different from whatever else has been made, so far. Mike Kendall is a real anti-hero, not one of these leather clad, baby faces with a temper. He's old, has an alcohol problem that's really unsexy and he doesn't have to face a slew of unnaturally angry and disappointed people. The world has already gave up on him. Mike's story is moving because his desire for redemption comes from within. He's a fuck up, but he's also genuinely interested in getting better and he does over the course of the movie.
Small Town Crime is a film that takes pride in being simple, but sharp and efficient. It doesn't draw outside the lines, but it narrates a classic detective story with great energy and originality. The ending also angles for a potential sequel, which I would be interested in seeing if Eshom and Ian Nelms (co-writers and directors) get into it with more confidence. Oh, and one last thing before I leave: you know there's a movie titled Small Crimes, which came out last year and stars an actor with a similar physical profile to John Hawkes? Small Town Crime, worst movie title since the Lumière brothers invented cinema, but a quite decent film.