2017 brought along with it a resurgence of surprisingly good, gritty, 70’s-esque crime dramas. Like “Shot Caller” and “Brawl in Cell Block 99”, “Small Time Crime” fits nicely into this category, but exchanges some of the brutal violence in the former two with dry, awkward humor.
Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) is an ex-cop and full-time alcoholic. He’s trying to get back into law enforcement, but there’s a dark spot on his record that makes that unlikely to ever occur. So instead he spends his day working out, drinking, and pretending to look for other forms of employment. Nights he usually spends with his brother in law (Anthony Anderson) getting thrown out of local bars. Mike is a disaster. He’s walking, talking, bad-luck to anyone he encounters. He’s a good doer at heart but seems physically incapable of it.
On the way home one morning after the latest bender left him deposited in a field, he discovers the bloodied body of a young woman on the side of the road. Neither the cops nor her parents seem very concerned with catching whoever left her for dead in the middle of nowhere, but this injustice strikes at the core of Mike’s humanity, and his desire for redemption. He soon becomes intertwined with a variety of interesting characters including the girl’s vengeful grandfather (Robert Forster) and a pimp who goes by the 3rd person moniker of “Mood” (Clifton Collins Jr.)
There are a few things that make “Small Town Crime” stand a notch above similar fare. First and foremost is John Hawkes exception performance. He usually plays a secondary or supporting character, but here is able to stretch his legs in a lead role and completely disappear into this nuanced character that we root for, although we’re not exactly sure why. Although great element is the attention to detail the writer/director duo Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms put into the film. Small things are done or seen that inform us on a level that dialog cannot. For example, there are reasons that a man would take a potted flowering plant to someone in the hospital, instead of grabbing cut flowers like everyone else does. Finally, an element of bizarreness coats the entire movie. To some, this occasional tonal shift is jarring, but for me, the unpredictability heightened my enjoyment of the film.
Each year SXSW programs a variety of fun, unique movies, many that often don’t get the visibility they should. “Small Town Crime” premiered at the 2017 SXSW festival and is only getting it’s US limited release this past Friday. (January 19th, 2018) It’s definitely one that is worth seeking out at your local art house and enjoying with friends.