Movie Review : Too Late (2015)
Dennis Hauck's first feature movie Too Late has been getting major buzz since it dropped on Netflix last month, which it was actually released on the festival circuit in 2015 and was thoroughly ignored by everyone who didn't see it. The movie started a quiet theater run in 35mm only afterwards before finally being released online for everyone to enjoy last December. And guess what? Too Late is pretty fucking great. Don't get me wrong, a highbrow detective movie starring the Great John Hawkes had everything to seduce me and it did. It so did. It may not sweep you off your feet if you're not into detectives as much as I am, but the craftsmanship of writer and director Dennis Hauck will leave no one indifferent. So, what made Too Late such a good movie?
Bear with me.
So, what is it about, right? It's difficult to summarize Too Late without spoiling it because the narrative is fragmented into five segments told out of order, but I'll do my best. Mel Sampson (John Hawkes) is your stereotypical tough-guy private investigator who's called upon by an old friend (Crystal Reed) fearing for her life. Or is it that simple? What began with a panicked phone call quickly is quickly deconstructed into five life-altering moments for Mel Sampson. The story began with things you anticipated from a detective movies: a grizzled investigator, a helpless stripper, a predatory underworld, etc. and delves into the complicated relationship between the most important moments of a man's life. Too Late is not a complete deconstruction of the private detective, but rather a poetic reinvention that reconciles the imaginary of Raymond Chandler with the grittier, more realistic iterations of the iconic character.
The greatest thing about Too Late is Dennis Hauck's gorgeously written screenplay. It's one of these movies where crimes are being committed (and solved) by mostly talking to people. Through seduction. The structure of Too Late itself prevented it from being a conventional detective mystery. The five segments are each shot in a single twenty-two minutes take which gave the film a different pace to sustain and doesn't have the latitude to include clue-finding scenes. The evidence is already found in Too Late and characters are confronting each other explicitly or implicitly, trying to pry under the surface and get them to confess their sins. Mel Sampson makes a living off being a charming fellow, taking interest in people only to use the information given for his own agenda. Too Late is a detective movie built from all the interesting parts of conventional mysteries and none of the generic, seemingly mandatory ones. If this isn't fucking cool, I don't know what it is.
Too Late isn't a perfect movie by any means. It's somewhat front-loaded. The first two segments are riveting and gorgeously-crafted. They'll appeal to both film noir enthusiasts and art films lovers. The fragmented, non-linear narrative eventually becomes problematic, though. Each segment is arguably necessary to the story, but they feel thin compared to the scorching intensity of the first two. The one featuring Mel and Jill (Dichen Lachman) especially (the fourth one). I had no problem with the third one recalling the night Mel and Dorothy met, which was a major tonal shift in the movie. It could've held its own as a standalone short film. It's more of a romantic scene than anything else, but carries the movie's philosophy of mixing stereotype and realism very well. The twist ending felt a little gimmicky also despite taking me off guard. It wrapped the segments together too neatly. It sounds like I'm complaining about the entire movie here, but I'm not. It's the structure I believe would've required a little more polish.
Cleveland had a lot going for itself in 2016: it made the World Series, won the NBA championship (still can't quite believe that one), became the center of the universe during the Republican party convention and now it has Dennis Hauck to be thankful for. His movie Too Late is a sumptuous piece of screenwriting and an fiercely ambitious reimagining of an iconic movie genre. It gets TOO ambitious sometimes and becomes victim of its own structure, but it remains a terrific film nonetheless. Far above what detective movies have given us in general over the last decade or so. It's the best I've seen since Rian Johnson's and Joseph Gordon-Levitt's breakthrough movie Brick. The buzz around Too Late checks out, beautiful people. Give this one a try, you won't regret it.