In another era, John Hawkes (The Sessions, Four Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri) would be a leading man who’d line them up at the local movie theater. But this isn’t the age of James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, or even Gene Hackman, and if one doesn’t have “movie star” looks that person plies his trade as a character actor .
But Hawkes is one example of how character actors often have more presence than the actual star of the project, and it’s great to see him front and center in Small Town Crime. Directed by brothers Ian and Eshom Nelms, the feature focuses on an ex-cop named Mike Kendall (Hawkes) who has turned his life into a living hell thanks to his alcoholism. Drinking like a fish on a daily basis, Mike often wakes up with no idea of his location, and his decision to go behind the wheel while drunk should irritate many a viewer.
Mike may have affection for his adopted sister (Octavia Spencer) and her husband (Anthony Anderson), who’s also his drinking buddy, but they can’t stop his downward spiral. Upon the discovery of a dying woman who’s abandoned on a deserted road, Mike immediately rushes her to the hospital but to no avail. Determined to find her killer in hopes of actually rejoining the force, Mike gradually becomes reengaged with life, proving that when halfway sober he’s actually a great detective. Daniel Sunjata and Michael Vartan play cops who don’t want Mike anywhere near the investigation, with Robert Forster and Clifton Collins Jr. helping Mike out as the victim’s father and an all too confrontational pimp. Caity Lotz (Legends of Tomorrow) also stars a prostitute who may be hiding a thing or two from Kendall.
Fans of such neo-noirs like Blood Simple, where the hard boiled crime is slightly tempered by comedic undertones, should gravitate towards Small Town Crime. Running a lean and mean 91 minutes, the effective thriller is powered by a charismatic and memorable performance by Hawkes. Credit goes to the directors for filling out their narrative with a talented ensemble, but unfortunately their ultimate purpose is to service the narrative’s top dog. That’s a minor quibble, as it’s great to see Hawkes anchor his own film for once, and the Nelms brothers prove they have no trouble delivering an engaging narrative.
Small Town Crime may not reach the big stakes level of some of its cinematic influences, but that’s just fine. If you didn’t already know Hawkes is a star, then Small Town Crime should lead you in the right direction.
The film hits select theaters and On Demand January 19.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5