Film Score: 3 out of 5 (Good)
Synopsis: Along the spectrum of small town crime thrillers, Small Crimes lays nestled between Blue Velvet and Blue Ruin. Disgraced ex-cop, Joe (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), returns to his hometown of Bradley County where only Joe himself is deluded by his gimmick of reformation. Joe’s past actions cause his present to become a litany of dire situations from which he tries to escape.
The name Small Crimes alludes to Joe’s delusion about what he really is. From the film’s beginning, Joe’s reformed persona is a facade as he brazenly displays his sobriety chip to the prison pastor. Despite returning to a town where he is reviled, Joe desperately clings to his act, scrambling to prepare excuses for family and victims alike.
Joe’s conflict with his duality, between the man he is and the man he claims to be, personifies Bradley County. Symbolised by the division of the local newspaper’s front page between the upcoming pumpkin festival and Joe’s release, Bradley is torn between its idealised image and its reality of vice and crime, as seen below. Every citizen in Bradley except Joe’s parents pretend to be someone else; from the reservist Scotty (Macon Blair) who spends his downtime in the local bar still dressed in his army uniform to the morally righteous D.A., Phil Coakley (Michael Kinney). The only person at ease with their duality is the ironically named Lieutenant Pleasant, Joe’s former partner who remains in the pay of the local crime family. Pleasant is played by Gary Cole with a refined humour oscillating between the dark and the mildly obscene that adds to his menace.
The Newspaper of Bradley, caught between pumpkins and corrupt cops
Small Crimes’s exploration of the reality behind the American icon of the rural small town is a well tread trope beginning with Blue Velvet. The film’s uniqueness stems from its protagonist being a reluctant villain instead of a hero tackling the darkness within the town. Macon Blair, George Cole, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau imbibe Small Crimes with enough dark humour that the film never gags on its own tension.
Director Evan Katz has delivered a visually solid film with glitters of brilliance. Brief cuts to townsfolk, from a taxi driver’s glare or the librarian’s following eyes subtly denote Joe’s infamy. Little details are repeatedly focused upon like the blood stains on the pickup truck borrowed from Joe’s father. This consistently adds an observantly dark humour through image alone, similar to Blue Ruin and Green Room. The overlap between these two films is unsurprising given that Macon Blair who plays Scotty, and co-adapted Small Crimes from David Zeltserman’s novel, also starred in Blue Ruin and Green Room. The plot falls into an expected spiral but has enough originality and twists in Joe’s descent to be refreshing.
Hatred, condensed into one look
The acting in Small Crimes is excellent. Similarities appear between Joe and Jaime Lannister, the role in Game of Thrones that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is famous for. Both characters involve an unhealthy degree of narcissism. However Jaime Lannister is a morally ambiguous anti-hero while Joe is a desperate man in denial about who he is. Despite Joe’s acts both past and present, he remained an understandable soul which is to the credit of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Molly Parker, of House of Cards fame, is Joe’s love interest, Charlotte. Parker depicts someone who is loving but through her dialogue and physical demeanour, Charlotte enigmatically infers that her past is equally as dark as Joe’s. I am excited to see Molly Parker’s performance in Netflix’s latest Stephen King adaptation, 1922.
The true star of Small Crimes is Robert Forster as Joe Sr, a man whose rounded shoulders show the guilt he bears for what his son has become. Robert Forster breathes life into this honourable working class man trying to maintain peace between Joe Jr and Joe’s mother Irma (Jacki Weaver) who is fervently distrustful of her son. At a time where Al Pacino and Robert De Niro find themselves in comedic bits, it is good to see older stars receive genuine roles because acting is a skill that never stops maturing.
Small Crimes, currently available on Netflix, is a good independent film with solid performances and plenty of dark humour. I would recommend it to Cohen brothers fans and those looking for a decent Sunday film.
By Saul Shimmin
For the trailer, see below;