A highlight of SXSW 2017 is the escapist film, Small Town Crime featuring John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer and Robert Forster.
As I’ve started exploring more films, I find that my favorite era is the 1970’s. I’m not sure if it’s because there was a spillover from the Freedom Movement of the 50’s and 60’s or if it was because the economic and political paranoia wracked the country, and the average citizen was still just looking to be cool; to escape reality. The movies of that period reflect that escapism, and so does the latest thriller from Eshom and Ian Nelms, “Small Town Crime.”
Though their story is set in modern times, the Nelms’ made every effort to evoke the escapist nature of the 1970’s. No one exudes that cool more than the alcoholic ex-cop, Mike Kendall played by the excellent John Hawkes (“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”).
Behind his drunken eyes, is a cool, calculating cat. Someone, who knows that he’s screwed up every opportunity, but knows he can do better.
And that’s the key to this film: he’s an anti-hero who knows he’s flawed and still wants to do the right thing. It also helps that the Nelms’ guide our anti-hero’s journey by focusing Mike on a murder investigation, which it turns out, he’s really good at. Helping him along is a strong supporting cast, including Octavia Spencer, Anthony Anderson, Clifton Collins, Jr and Robert Forster.
As Mrs. and Mr. Banks, Octavia Spencer and Anthony Anderson’s characters are key to Mike’s family life. This element brings the film into a modern era and gives Mike’s history a shape from which we can glean Mike’s motivation. It’s only a matter of time before Ms. Spencer is given her own lead role. Her credibility in a multitude of roles shows here. Mr. Anderson brings his trademark affability to his role and it’s a nice contrast to Mr. Hawkes’ performance.
The story makes expert use of their smaller characters too. As Mood, Clifton Collins, Jr rallies in behind Mike to find the murderer. His involvement serves his own ends, but that’s what makes their interactions so dynamic. As if this film needed more, Robert Forster steps into action. His is a more quiescent role, until the third act, but he is no less important to the overall story.
The Nelms’ pay homage to so many iconic moments from 1970’s films, especially with the villains. But it doesn’t detract from their overall story. There are some pacing issues, but nothing that should turn people away.
The film premiered at 2017’s SXSW festival, where DirecTV promptly picked it up. It has been playing on their pay-per-view platform since December and it gets a limited theatrical release this weekend. If you live in Phoenix, the FilmBar is screening it starting today. Make sure to give them a shout out when you go see the film; they truly represent independent cinema at its finest.
Now in a limited number of theaters, on select streaming platforms and DirecTV Cinema, Small Town Crime is rated R by the MPAA.
You can see more about the film in this clip