Thursday, January 17, 2019

Movie Review: The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek *** / *****
Directed by: Henry Dunham.
Written by: Henry Dunham.
Starring: James Badge Dale (Gannon), Brian Geraghty (Noah), Patrick Fischler (Beckmann), Chris Mulkey (Ford), Happy Anderson (Morris), Robert Aramayo (Keating), Gene Jones (Hubbel), Cotter Smith (Roman), Bret Porter (Kowalski).
As someone who fell in love with movies in part because he fell in love with the films of Quentin Tarantino, I have seen more than my share of Tarantino knockoffs. The late 1990s seemed to have a few released every month – and most of them were pretty awful, because it takes a rare talent like Tarantino’s to make the type of films he does, and not make them seem empty. Writer/director Henry Dunham’s debut film The Standoff at Sparrow Creek would like nothing more than to be described as Reservoir Dogs for the militia crowd, and while it clearly isn’t as good as Tarantino’s original film, it’s about as good as these types of knockoffs get.
In the film, the members of a local militia all hear on their police scanners about an incident at the funeral for a police officer – where a gunman walked out of the woods at the cemetery and opened fire, killing many in attendance, before fleeing. The militia men know that they may well be a target for the cops in the wake of the shooting – and when they realize one of their guns is missing, they know one of their number must be the killer. But they’re all here, accounted for – and all have stories about how they could not have done it. So who’s lying? The job of figuring that out falls to Gannon (James Badge Dale) – as he was once a cop himself, one who was an expert at interrogation.
The entire film takes place at the bunker of the militia – who are paranoid, so they have ditched their cell phones, and are only getting updates from the outside world from their CB radio. The country seems to be descending into chaos – and they are the focal point. The cops are sure to come, sooner or later, and they want a scapegoat.
Dunham is smart in many ways in making this film – the film is a throwback to the type of films Tarantino made earlier in his career, and Dunham is clearly examining a group of wounded male psyches here. He doesn’t paint them as paranoid lunatics – but rather a group of sad men who feel betrayed - and are waiting for their chance to strike back. He doesn’t make them too sympathetic though – that risks making these gun nuts the good guys, which in 2018 in the wake of all the mass shootings, would be a mistake.
The film mainly works – it is built on a series of interrogations and conversations, where one by one, you get to know these different characters and their motivations. Some of the dialogue is tin eared, but it mostly works. The film is anchored by James Badge Dale, who was made for roles like this, and does this one as good as possible. The rest of the cast is mainly character actors – who are making the most of larger than usual roles.
I’m not sure the end of the movie works – the film wants to give a twist ending to the film, but it’s in that twist that the movie comes the closest to giving in to the worldview of its militia main characters. If the film gets any kind of wise release at all, and enters the wider film conversation in anyway, watch out – this will be a think piece generator.
Mainly though, it’s a promising debut for Dunham – who knows how to write and direct actors, and if his visual palate is perhaps a little too dark, well, it fits. The film has cult film aspirations, and while I’m not sold it will get there – it’s a good film in a genre it’s hard to make a good film in.

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