Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) used to be a cop, but because of a bust-gone-wrong, he lost his job and is now searching for that next great gig. However, he’s got a bit of a drinking-problem and no one really wants to take him on, so he mostly just goes about his life, drinking, hanging out, and doing his best to stay out of cases that he knows for a fact that he can solve. But when he finds a dead body on the side of the road, the juices begin to flow again for Mike and he decides that it’s time to take on another case, but this time, as a work-for-hire private-investigator. It’s not necessarily legal, because he’s not even licensed just yet, but he doesn’t care – he’s got a lead and he’s going to find out just what the hell happened to this body. Eventually, he unearths a massive cover-up and it becomes way more dangerous than he, or anyone else around him, ever expected it to be.
Small Town Crime is a very simple and easy-going crime-procedural that reminds me so much of a Elmore Leonard novel, it’s a shocker to see that it wasn’t originally one. Co-writers/directors Eshom Nelms, Ian Nelms seem to know what they’re doing with this procedural-formula so much that, even when it seems like convention, the movie finds small, slight little ways to make it a step above the usual fray. For instance, we actually get to know these characters, their relationships with one another, and more importantly, just what this small town is like.
In other words, it’s a lot like Fargo, or literally any other Coen Brothers flick, but it doesn’t feel like a direct copy-cat. If anything, it’s a nice bit of style that’s similar, but still it’s own thing and for that, it’s an enjoyable watch. We care what happens to these characters, with this case, and the twists and turns that do come running at us make some sense and help keep the movie exciting, even when we realize that we’re in the third-act and things should be wrapping-up.
And at literally an-hour-and-a-half, it does. And it’s nice to have that: A movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome, but instead, plays it short, sweet, and a little fun.
Most of the fun, though, is attributed to watching John Hawkes get, for what seems like the first time in forever, a juicy, meaty leading-role as only John Hawkes could get. Mike Kendall is a bit of a loser, who doesn’t score much with those around him, is a little selfish, and has a drinking-problem, but the movie allows us to care for him and see why anyone would ever trust the guy. Of course, a solid portion of why we care for this guy is thanks to Hawkes being charming and lovable, literally both at the same time, but it’s also thanks to the Nelms’ for giving him a solid-role that reminds us why we need more of John Hawkes in the world, regardless of whether or not he’s starring, or supporting.
We just need him around.
And the rest of the ensemble is pretty great, too. It’s nice to see Anthony Anderson play it a little dark and serious as Mike’s best-buddy, as well as Octavia Spencer, playing Anderson’s wife and not putting up with any of Kendall’s shit. But it’s really Robert Forster, who shows up every now and then, who reminds us why he, like Hawkes, deserves to be around more. Of course, he reminded me a whole lot more of the Leonard-influence than anything else here, but that’s on-purpose; Forster is one of those great character actors who can take a small, bit-role, and make it the best thing in whatever he’s doing.
More of him, more of Hawkes, and while I’m at it, more of Small Town Crime. Please.
Consensus: Though it’s a small, rather simple procedural, Small Town Crime is still fun, enjoyable, and well-acted enough to make it a lot better and less conventional than it actually sounds.
7 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Saban Films