Small Town Crime

It can't be a good sign when, in the opening scene of Small Town Crime, the former cop takes a drink and pukes his guts out between repetitions of a weight-lifting exercise, but clearly, he is accustomed to this quite unorthodox method of working out. He even places a trash can next to the bench, and each rep within each set draws a grunting groan of discomfort from his lips. Of course, he keeps going, because as we learn later on, he keeps to his routine even if it hurts him. The screenplay by directors Eshon and Ian Nelms (credited onscreen as "the Nelms Brothers") establishes a lot about this man in the opening scene and, in doing so, creates a screen detective of the type with which we are familiar.

In his professional life, Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) is a wreck. He lost his job as a cop when a simple traffic stop turned unbelievably tragic (The Nelms Brothers reveal the details to us in two, carefully placed scenes, so as to enhance the impact of the awful truth), and now, according to everyone, it'll take a miracle to get him back on the force. We can see, once the plot kicks in, how much of a loss his absence is, too: Mike is observant regarding even the tiniest detail, always surveying the human subjects and taking in details that others miss. His alcoholic tendencies are quite unable to deter from that preternatural ability.

His personal life is also in shambles. He was adopted into the family with whom he grew up and enjoys a cordial relationship with his sister Kelly (Octavia Spencer), but she knows he's a screw-up. His brother-in-law Teddy (Anthony Anderson) attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with him, and the fact that their children are rarely seen suggests that Mike isn't very close to them, likely by choice on Kelly's part. The directors' only reason for introducing his sister and brother-in-law, of course, is to make the point, as the plot moves along, that having a family as a member of law enforcement is an occupational hazard. You could bet on one of them being put directly in harm's way and receive the sum of money due you.

The plot finds Mike, following a bender that places him near the crime scene in a drunken stupor (That he wakes up barely surprised by his location suggests this is a regular occurrence), stumbling upon a badly brutalized young woman on the side of the road. She dies within hours of his depositing her at the nearest hospital, and Mike, wracked with guilt over the fact that he was too late to save her and to the chagrin of two detectives (played by Michael Vartan and Daniel Sunjata) who also know he's a screw-up, launches his own investigation: The girl's grandfather (played by Robert Forster) pays him a solid rate, and he ends up crossing paths with two sociopathic assassins (played by Jeremy Latchford and James Lafferty).

None of this should be surprising, because the Nelms Brothers have crafted a reliably familiar crime yarn. The familiarity of it isn't a hindrance, though: The directors have also provided us with an array of recognizable and compelling characters, not least that of Mike at the center. Hawkes' performance is also reliable, the actor bearing the weight of a lot of unspoken and unsavory character traits, internalizing them, and somehow crafting a character worthy of our sympathy. Small Town Crime at least doesn't obscure an important truth, though: Mike Kendall, for all his strengths as a detective, is a pathetic loser.

Film Information

John Hawkes (Mike Kendall), Octavia Spencer (Kelly Banks), Robert Forster (Steve Yendel), Anthony Anderson (Teddy Banks), Clifton Collins Jr. (Mood), Michael Vartan (Crawford), Caity Lotz (Heidi), Jeremy Latchford (Orthopedic), James Lafferty (Lama).

Directed and written by Eshon and Ian Nelms.

Rated R (violence, language, sexual references).

91 minutes.

Released in select cities on January 19, 2018.

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