The paramount appeal to Eshom and Ian Nelms’ Small Town Crime, is the slightly pathetic, self-destructive nature of the protagonist – a former cop who wants to be back on the force, but nobody’ll take him. The opening shot is of him lifting weights, only to pause, throw up, sip his beer, and begin again. This is emblematic of a character with good intentions, but without the aptitude to pull any of them off, making for an entertaining, compelling opening act. But then he gets quite good as his job, and starts doing way too many things right – and suddenly the feature is stripped of its charm, eventually growing into the generic thriller it had initially appeared to subvert.
John Hawkes is the aforementioned individual Mike Kendall, who can’t seem to go half an hour without reaching for a beer. Having been fired for alcohol abuse – which led to the death of another officer – he floats aimlessly around town, looking for inspiration. His adopted sister Kelly (Octavia Spencer) and her husband (Anthony Anderson) can only do so much to help him, but when he’s driving along one day and discovers the beaten up body of a young women, he feels this could be his chance to prove his worth. When she dies in hospital a day later, he takes it upon himself to crack this case, adopting the persona of a private investigator and convincing the grandfather of the deceased (Robert Forster) to let him take on the case, despite the fact his former colleagues in the force are persistently telling him to stay well clear.
Though the character’s frustrating arc may deter viewers, the one consistent is the wonderful performance by Hawkes, who brings Mike Kendall to life in emphatic fashion. He has this childlike wonder in his eyes, and though an alcoholic who seems to keep messing up, and hurting those around him, you feel you can always see the blissfully optimistic innocent boy within him, allowing the viewer a way in, able to invest and root in his cause – and, vitally, never give up hope, which most around him seem to have done.
Small Town Crime is lacking somewhat in a palpable focus however, trying to accomplish a little too much, perhaps getting just a little too big for its boots as the film becomes a grand old detective crime thriller, with Mike heading up the investigation – leading to shoot-outs, car chases, you name it. Though filmmakers should always be encouraged to mix seamlessly between genres and not abide by formula, in this instance a clearer vision and path would be appreciated, as we end up stumbling aimlessly through the narrative similarly to how Mike would get home after a supposedly quiet night in the local boozer.