Created by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms
Fresh off 2016's entertainly little P.I. mind-fuck Too Late and a small but engaging role in 2017's Oscar-contending Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes actor John Hawkes in yet another juicy performance, once again as a battered yet oddly compelling asshole.
Small Town Crime follows the adventures of alcoholic MIKE KENDALL, a disgraced former cop turned half-assed private investigator who stumbles from one drink to another, obstensibly working cases. But don't be fooled -- he's an almost total fuck-up; a full-on asshole, regularly pissed and regularly pissing off everyone who crosses his path, blithely careening around town in a souped-up old black Nova as battered as he is, without giving a good Goddamn, about whom he offends -- or who he might kill.
And this is the hero? Really?
Yet somehow Hawke gives the role just enough humanity (or is it simply charm?) to make us care about the pathetic SOB. And then, after another night on the town, he wakes to find himself parked in a field, where he discovers a brutally beaten woman. He rushes her to the hospital, but she doesn't make it.
With dreams of redemption (and possibly being re-hired by the police) dancing in his head -- he decides to stop drinking (as much) and solve the case. Not that it's likely "with his record," as a former colleague points out.
Or, as Teddy, one of his few remaining friends, tell hims, "Stop with thew cop talk. You don't have to worry about that anymore."
The problem is that Mike's not a very good detective, sober or not. Dressed in an ill-fitting black suit, sporting an unruly mop of dark hair that keeps falling over his bloodshot eyes and apparently making it up as he goes, he's the antithesis of everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be, and he doesn't care who knows it.
But try to look away from him, as he goes through his paces. Can't be done.
Even when it turns out the woman was no angel -- she was a junkie, a prostitue and a thief whose own family had given up on her years ago. The only one who seems to care is her grandfather, a control-freak asshole (played by the always sturdy Robert Forster), eager to avenge her death, which he seems to take as a personal affront more than anything.
Forster and Hawke aren't the only members of the cast who give top notch performances -- also along for the ride are Octavia Spencer as Kelly, Mike's (adopted) sister, Anthony Anderson as Teddy, her husband (and Mike's best --or possibly only -- friend) and Clifton Collins, Jr. as Mood, the dead girl's pimp, who has his own reasons for helping Mike crack the case.
As plots go, it's a little underwritten, but there's a satisfyingly raw, retro 60s/70s vibe here; a head-on collision between the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarrantino, and the acting and the jacked-up action sequences are good enough to cover up a multitude of thin spots. And the recurring use of "Good Times," a woozy confessional ode to self-pity from Eric Burdon and the Animals which serves as a sort of musical leitmotif, brings it all home.
Not as good as it could have been, but way better than it could have been.
-- Sean, assholeswatchingmovies.com
-- Glenn Kenny, rogerebert.com
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