Netflix Review: Small Crimes

Adequate for a Netflix original, disappointing considering the talent..

I had been eagerly anticipating Small Crimes for quite some time for two reasons. The first is that it stars Jaime Lannister himself Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, who is increasingly becoming a fascinating actor to watch even when he appears in things like Gods of Egypt. Coster-Waldau is a movie star waiting to happen and as the anti-hero of Small Crimes it looked like this may have been his moment. The second and most important reason was that this was the second film from writer and director Evan (E.L) Katz. Katz really impressed me with his debut film Cheap Thrills, one of the most assured and rollicking debuts of recent years, a horror black comedy that was a big hit on the festival circuit in 2013. Cheap Thrills was a debut on a par with Reservoir Dogs, Saw or The Babadook— a film that wowed festival audiences and had the critics talking up a major new talent.

Small Crimes stars Coster-Waldau as Joe Denton — a disgraced former cop who spends six years in jail for the attempted murder of a fellow member of law enforcement. He gets out and returns home to find his family have moved away, other former colleagues holding grudges, and worst of all his connections to the underworld leaning on him to dispose of a terminally ill potential witness. Considering that the script is also co written by I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore mastermind Macon Blair (who also appears in a small role) you would expect a Fargo esque masterpiece. So first thing first — yes Small Crimes is the first biggest disappointment of 2017 so far, but is it as bad as the SXSW reviews made it out to be? No.

There are things to like here. Coster-Waldau is in every frame of the movie and carries it well. The supporting cast including Jackie Weaver, Robert Forster, Gary Cole, Pat Healy and Molly Parker and they all rise to the occasion. There’s also an interesting subtext,which is never fully explored and only hinted at, about whether or not people are all the way bad or redeemable which actually leads to an unexpected finale. Fans of Cheap Thrills will find one or two moments of very dark comedy that will please, and I also thought that the sharp and quick dialogue really stood out especially in scenes involving Gary Cole. I was never bored during Small Crimes, I was invested the entire time and it was only come the ending that I realised the problem with the film is in its overall tone and over familiarity.

I mentioned the moments of dark comedy in the script but the problem the film has and can’t quite get past is in its asking us to sympathise with a character that could well be all the way evil thanks to the crimes it hints that he is responsible for. It’s hard to sympathise with a character who has mutilated, murdered and will commit more murders just to avoid conviction, and hanging our sympathies on his estranged daughters is a risk that doesn’t pay off. At times you think this is going for a small town Bad Lieutenant feel but it doesn’t portray the main character as a victim of circumstance or environment; rather as a narcissistic individual motivated by his own selfish baser impulses. If there had been a bit more back story, something to hang on in terms of a desperate bid for survival then it would have made all the difference. It’s not exactly The Killer Inside Me but something more would have made the emotional scenes more moving and the ‘comedy’ leaving less of a bad taste in the mouth. The small town crime situation spinning wildly out of control is at this point really old hat. There is nothing in Small Crimes that you haven’t seen before over the last twenty years done with more finesse and skill. It’s only the eventual finale that surprises slightly, but even that seems to come out of nowhere thanks to an idea not fully developed within the script.

In these increasingly pleasing days of smaller films going straight to streaming services, it is perhaps time to redefine how we criticise such products. Small Crimes is fine for a Netflix original — It’s not as good as I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore and its not as bland or confused as much of Girlfriend’s Day. I just wish it had been better considering the talent involved and can only hope that Evan Katz’ next film is a real return to form rather than another muddled and overly familiar ‘original’ movie.

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