Arts

SXSW 2017: ‘Small Town Crime’ boasts ensemble cast, struggles with tone

From left: John Hawkes, director Ian Nelms, Octavia Spencer, Clifton Collins Jr. and Caity Lotz discuss their film "Small Town Crime."

Image By: Samantha Marz

Film festivals are useful venues for independent filmmaking. Among the lineup was “Small Town Crime,” directed by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms. The film stars John Hawkes as Mike, a former cop-turned-alcoholic struggling to find employment. When Mike discovers a brutally beaten girl laying on the side of the road, dying moments after he takes her to the hospital, he finds himself drawn back into his former life to figure out who was responsible for the murder.

“Small Town Crime” benefits from an ensemble cast. Supporting Hawkes is Anthony Anderson, James Lafferty, Caity Lotz and Octavia Spencer, who also served as executive producer. The chemistry and camaraderie among the group is shown both in the film and during the question-and-answer session; Spencer and the Nelms brothers had a pre-established relationship having worked together in the film “Lost on Purpose.” I also enjoyed the “indie” aesthetic of “Small Town Crime.” While there are several A-list stars in this cast, at no point did it feel like a big Hollywood production, grounding the film in realism.

There are things to admire about “Small Town Crime,” but I couldn’t get past the inconsistency in tone. The film starts as though it’s going to be a comedy, playing off Mike’s drunken antics. Costars like Anderson, a comedic actor known for “Black-ish,” also plays into that. However, the film does a near 180 as the plot develops, turning into a gritty drama by the end of it. The film tried to be two different genres without doing proper service to either one.

The talents of the cast were also underutilized. Spencer has little screen time, and while that’s likely due to her contributions as a producer behind the scenes, it was a missed opportunity to use an Oscar-winning actress. The female characters in general also didn’t get their due; Lotz, the lead character in the CW’s “Legends of Tomorrow,” is also a talented actress, but her character is a thinly written prostitute with barely any scenes. I hoped for more from these characters.

“Small Town Crime,” offered some entertaining performances, but its inconsistency and characterization hindered the film. I find the Nelms brothers intriguing as directors, so I hope they try to improve on these elements in future productions.

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