Small Crimes (2017) [REVIEW] [SXSW ’17]

Film festivals love Macon Blair and Evan Katz. Blair starred in festival favorites Blue Ruin and Green Room and his directorial debut, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore, won top honors at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Katz’s Cheap Thrills blew audiences away at both SXSW and Fantastic Fest in 2013, earning him well-deserved acclaim in the world of genre cinema. The two have teamed up to bring audiences Small Crimes, an adaptation of Dave Zeltserman’s novel of the same name, so surely this is perfect for genre fans, right? Well, not necessarily, as the noir-ish chronicles of one man hoping to break free from the shackles of being a shitty dude despite being a shitty dude isn’t for everybody, but for those fans this movie is for, Katz has shown he’s far from a one-trick pony.

Throughout much of the film, Denton clearly thinks he’s a badass who looks like this.

Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has finally been released from prison, using sobriety and his children as his motivation to move forward. Despite his intentions to make up for time lost, his family has left him behind, although his sordid behaviors as a crooked cop refuse to forget him. A former associate (Gary Cole) offers him the chance to not just clear his debts but also reconnect with his daughters in a deal that sounds too good to be true, and sadly, that’s because it is. As Denton tries to make the best moves for him and his family, he inadvertently drags more people into his messy life with every action he takes, forcing him to question how to do the right thing for people who he’s only caused pain.

In reality, Denton actually spends most of the movie looking like this.

Does Small Crimes sound like a movie starring Tom Berenger that you would’ve had to sit through on Showtime to get to Red Shoe Diaries? Well, that’s what much of the film feels like. The whole film feels nihilistic, which is no surprise coming from Kat and Blair, considering their track record. It’s hard to say that the film is enjoyable, as everything Denton touches turns to shit. The film isn’t about a charismatic anti-hero that you root for, it’s about a failure of a man who blames the results of his selfishness on the poor hand he’s been dealt. Every character Denton meets, you wish you could shout at to get away while they still can, but, ya know, it’s a movie and things don’t work that way. The handsome Coster-Waldau might feel like he’s phoning in his performance at times, but ultimately it’s because his character his phoning in most of his life, going through the motions that he feels he must in order to ingratiate back into society, when he’d clearly rather drown his sorrows in the nearest bottle of alcohol. The film leaves you uncomfortable and disappointed throughout most of its running time, right up until its cathartic finale.

This is a picture from Cheap Thrills and not a picture from Small Crimes. Sorry!

Cheap Thrills was Katz’s feature debut and his camerawork felt like a fly on the wall documenting descent into madness. Shot over two weeks, he allowed his ferocious performers to be the focal point of every scene, shooting so intimately that you felt like the events were unfolding before your very eyes. Clearly not wanting to just repeat his successes, Katz pulled the camera back to capture scenes both mundane and exciting, often conveying the feeling that these nefarious behaviors could be going on in your neighbor’s living room when they close their shades. Small Crimes is majestically shot and endlessly frustrating, and I mean that in the best way possible.

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