Small Crimes (dir. E.L. Katz, 2017) – Having served his sentence for attempted murder, disgraced former cop Joe Denton seeks redemption but finds himself trapped in the mess he left behind.
A healthy amount of cynicism will ensure an easier wade through this weary dark comedy.
Small Crimes centres on disgraced cop Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), who is having a hard time making amends to his estranged family, and a former colleague scarred in the line of duty. But if you think this is a redemption story, you’ve got another think coming.
After all, his chink in the armour runs deep. The corruption-prone ex-con takes no time to dismantle his second chance. Blackmailed by Lt. Pleasant (Gary Cole), he is forced into protecting dirty cops by killing a cancer-stricken mob boss Manny Vassey (Shawn Lawrence). Caving to the pressure of his past, he invites fatal danger back on his trail.
Adapting from David Zeltserman’s same-name novel, screenwriters Evan Katz and Macon Blair have crafted an unpredictable dark comedy that is almost pitch-black. Things crumble down fast in Denton’s world, moody and stiflingly so. The bold screenplay is cleverly written and well-executed, but it is ultimately difficult to connect with.
Sympathy for the devil is near impossible, with a leading man so irredeemable and far from absolution. This is through no fault of the cast. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is no stranger to playing narcissists, and plays the anti-hero to perfection. But from his perspective, the bleak character study burns slow and turns out cold as stone.
In his depressing downward spiral, it is the arcs of side characters that engage the most. His love interest Charlotte Boyd (Molly Parker) lets in a rare beacon of hope that cynicism rejects. D.A. Phil Coakley (Michael Kinney) meanwhile tells his story through his scars that Denton seems responsible for, teasing revenge in the making.
True crazy lies in the psychopathic Junior (Pat Healy), the mob boss’ son who threatens Denton with the prospects of his “playroom”. As what little optimism is snuffed, heartbreak comes through the conflicted emotions of his parents (Robert Forster and Jacki Weaver), caught between a rock and a hard place.
With such exceeding minor characters, the focus seems misplaced on Denton’s doomed fate. His inevitable straight plummet to Hell ends up a sad, soul-sucking watch that leaves much more to be desired.
For the few undeterred ones, be sure to get mentally geared for this slippery descent into pure, wretched despair. How hard it is to sift through a tragicomedy so pessimistic, and subtle in its gallows humour withal. But there is no doubt something interesting buried beneath the darkness.