Co-written and co-directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms, Small Town Crime is an engaging neo-noir melodrama which demonstrates respectful nods to Peter Yates’ Bullitt (1968) and Elmore Leonard. (Get Shorty, 1995, Jackie Brown, 1997, Out of Sight, 1998, Justified, 2010-15).
Mike Kendall (John Hawkes – American Gangster, 2007, Lincoln, 2012, Deadwood, 2004-06) is in an unrepentant self-destructive downward spiral. His self-loathing only lets up around adopted sister Kelly Banks (Octavia Spencer, who also executive produces) or at any hint of getting his old job back, despite the active discouragement of his former colleagues (Michael Vartan, Alias, 2001-06, and Daniel Sunjata, Devil Wears Prada, 2012). Otherwise, his mind-numbingly repetitive days start with beer, exercise, beer, vomiting, beer, job-seeking, beer, interview, beer, an evening of real drinking with easy-going brother-in-law Teddy (Anthony Anderson).
With a difficult past, saved by Kelly’s family, Mike’s drinking was already becoming a problem, when his inebriation causes the death of two people. Now, 17 months after being fired, and after a particular heavy bender, Mike awakens in a field, staggers to his matt black muscle car and tears off down the highway. He stops once, to pick up a brutalised young woman collapsed at the roadside and rush her to hospital. She dies 24 hours later, but Mike has already resolved to identify her and find out what happened to her.
So begins a blackly comic redemption movie which, like last year’s Hell or High Water, paints a vivid picture of American rural life.
In his 100 pound, hungover frame, Mike is impossible to dislike. The Nelms brothers skillfully craft his self-loathing, setting his temperament somewhere between grim acceptance and bemusement. Jane Doe inspires him to try to make amends for one of the deaths that still weighs heavily on him. Embarking on his own unofficial investigation, Mike proves he can still be an asset, and gain unlikely allies (Robert Forster and Clifton Collins Jr), but seriously endangers his family as he moves closer to the violently ruthless perps.
Small Town Crime is an unexpectedly fun, well-crafted tale with a hugely charismatic protagonist allowing Hawkes to turn in what must be close to a career-best performance, and with solid, untaxing turns from Spencer and Anderson.
See this movie if you fancy a proper, grown up thriller in which age old attitudes are deftly set against refreshingly modern social norms, largely well-drawn support (with the possible exception of pimp Mood, who could have used a little revision), wrapped up in a darkly dry wit.
Hawkes can also be seen as Charlie in the London Film Festival’s closing night gala, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Small Town Crime premiered in March 2017’s SXSW, and got its UK premiere at BFI London Film Festival. It screens in the UK until 19th October 2017 at the following cinemas – Empire London Haymarket | Prince Charles Cinema | Rich Mix
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri tickets are on sale Sunday 15th October at Odeon Leicester Square and Embankment Garden Cinema – find out more and book tickets here.
See TBB’s recommended films to watch over the festival here.