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Small Town Crime (2017) - Movie Review

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Small Town Crime - Movie Review

5 starsIf there is anything that growing up on my father’s steady diet of b-movie westerns taught me – and I’m talking every Sunday he’d sit and watch (and watch again) the same recycled footage of horseback riders passing the same big rock on the same dusty path in a completely different movie – it’s that even the drunk gets his time in the sun.  They, too, can be heroic.  Lesson learned. 

Throughout the genre, the hapless drunk sobers up enough – thanks to a hefty brew of coffee and humor – to be an amazing source of redemption.  That fact is still true, especially when you are working within a rules-bound genre.  But, interestingly enough, when you combine two genres – the western and the detective yarn – some interesting things start to happen.

It could be argued that those drunks – those sidekicks –  are far more interesting than the hero of the flick.  I know that for me personally, I was only into what my father was watching because of the inclusion of the characters that actors like Gabby Hayes played.  I wanted to see him rise to the occasion and be the chef that saved the day with a gun in his hand instead of a spoon.

Thankfully, the creators of Small Town Crime, Ian and Eshom Nelms, understand that about those B-movie westerns and its use of drunks because their feature film, released by Saban Films, is one hell of a sobering ride through a perfect potboiler (by way of the western) as experienced by yet another drunk that could have been a sidekick...except he is not; he’s our main focus.

Alcoholic Mike Kendell (John Hawkes, Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene and The Sessions) has no job.  He’s honest about it as being an ex-cop in a small town is pretty hard to shake.  Everybody knows what he did being drunk on the job and causing the deaths of his partner and a victim.  But he doesn’t make excuses.  He is what he is and – currently without a badge – all he can be is a drunk.  And he does it well. 

Kendell speeds through town in a steady black Chevy Nova and, without a thought to his mortality, crashes through his own fence and, later, wakes up in open fields, completely hungover, with the car parked only a few feet away.  The Nova in Small Town Crime is obviously the horse in this western revamp and Hawkes – rail-thin and completely unfazed by the violent events that eventually roll out around him – rides it well, echoing 1968’s Steve McQueen-helmed Bullitt with some solid driving POVs and action beats.  

But, on one of these head-clouded mornings, Kendell awakes to discover a mutilated female body along the side of the highway.  He takes her, like any good cowboy, to get the care she needs and discovers that she is part of a teenage prostitution ring.  This simple act reawakens the fire that once was lit within him; he is a detective and he wants to get to the bottom of who would do this to a young lady. 

But his old co-workers don’t want his help.  At all. 

So he does what any good Merle Haggard song suggests and goes back to the barroom and drinks and then – because he has a wealth of knowledge about prostitutes that shouldn’t go to waste – decides to pose as a private investigator to the dead girl’s rich grandfather (Robert Forster) and, upon getting a healthy paycheck, gets involved in calling out her pimp (Clifton Collins Jr.) as the mystery deepens in this relatively small town.  

Yet, the narrative is far more complex than the borders of this unnamed town.  None of these dudes that Hawkes shakes down are the men responsible for the horrific violence against the teens and, as these three characters discover their fates are aligned, make for good (and unusual) partners in the search for justice.  Their chemistry together – especially in an unexpected development – is one of the best things about the movie.  And Hawkes, who continues to deliver time and time again in the roles he is cast in, is quickly becoming as reliable a presence to ANY film in a manner that only the late Harry Dean Stanton could manage.    

Co-starring the always-reliable talents of Anthony Anderson and Octavia Spencer (who also produced), Small Town Crime is a wonderfully tight film that gives viewers EXACTLY what they want in a potboiler.  Tense and economical, the narrative successfully blends a tinge of comedic moments with some brutal violence and its ensemble cast rises to meet those demands with cool.  This neo-noir is in damn good hands. 

Like the staggering drunk at its center, Small Town Crime – even after yet another weekend bender – still manages to stand tall.  It opens, after a brief run thanks to DirecTV Cinema, in select cities this weekend.

Small Town Crime - Movie Review

MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, language and some sexual references.
91 mins
: Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms
John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, Robert Forster
: Thriller
Doing the right thing the wrong way.
Memorable Movie Quote: "Just waking up, Steve."
Theatrical Distributor:
Saban Films
Official Site:
Release Date:
March 11, 2017 (SxSW Film Festival)
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
No details available.
Synopsis: An alcoholic ex-cop (Hawkes) finds the body of a young woman and, through an act of self-redemption, becomes hell-bent on finding the killer but unwittingly puts his family in danger and gets caught up with several dark characters along the way.

No details available.

Small Town Crime - Movie Review

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