Why isn’t John Hawkes in more films? He is mesmerising here as hopeless, selfish, drunk ex-copper Mike Kendall, whose life fell apart 17 months ago – and who still hasn’t managed to piece it back together again.
Desperate to get back on the police force but tainted by the circumstances surrounding his dismissal, Mike finds his opportunity lying by the side of the road when he discovers a near-dead girl. Following leads himself, he essentially falls into becoming a private investigator, and seriously cheeses off the officers on the case by getting ahead of them with leads.
It sounds pretty procedural, but the way in which Small Town Crime zips – or sometimes lurches (aptly) – along with Mike makes it quite unlike any other crime-based drama. It’s brutal and violent in places, but also moving and – most frequently – darkly hilarious. Whether it’s the smart quips that Mike does nothing to control, regardless of the situation, or the situations themselves, Small Town Crime is thoroughly entertaining. Small Town Crime is also populated by a kick-ass grandfather, sympathetic siblings and a reasonably affable pimp.
The film’s opening, where Mike attempts to weight-lift between swigs of beer until he vomits, gives a pretty accurate depiction of the whole piece’s offbeat and unusual tone. A judicious balance between humour and the deadly narrative propelling the film forward, however, ensures that the comedy never cheapens or undermines the storyline’s impact which – taking in prostitution, drugs, money and murder – is pretty hard-hitting.
With the pulpy, neo-noir stylings of Tarantino in some places, Small Town Crime would work perfectly well as a decent, straight-laced thriller. The extra-large dollop of bleak, deadpan comedy and John Hawkes’ masterful performance bring it into another league, however, seeing it present itself as brilliantly idiosyncratic.
CAST: John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson, Michael Vartan, Clifton Collins Jr.
DIRECTORS: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
WRITERS: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
SYNOPSIS: An alcoholic ex-cop finds the body of a young woman and, through an act of self-redemption, becomes hell-bent on finding the killer. This unwittingly, however, puts his family in danger as he gets caught up with several dark characters along the way.