Small Town Murder Songs Reviews
The oddly and evocatively titled "Small Town Murder Songs" is a stark, powerful drama that in brief outline can sound mistakenly as it turns out -- very much like a police procedural. Instead, it's a character study about a man desperately trying to hold onto some sense of himself while squeezed in a psychological, spiritual, and professional vise. Toronto writer/director Gass-Donnelly combines powerful imagery to a thundering score rich in percussion and choral singing, created by Bruce Peninsula. Rarely does cinema and music mesh as boldly as this. It's a fairly straightforward movie told in a very brief 75 minutes -- every scene carries weight, and nothing is wasted.
Set in a tiny Mennonite community in the lovely rural heartlands outside of London, Ontario, where Walter (Peter Stormare) is an aging police officer who is investigating the murder of a young women whose naked body was found dumped in the weeds on the outskirts of town. Walter must do his job, but his current investigation involves something from his past. He is a man haunted with regret, searching for forgiveness and deliverance, which only accentuates the poignancy of his current situation.
Stormare delivers a tremendous performance, completely inhabiting his character. He superbly conveys the interior torment of a violent man attempting to live and work as a peacemaker, but you have to wonder if he couldn't have used a bit more of a back story. The story is so lean, we really don't know enough about Walter to fully appreciate the burden he must bear. The musical score elevates this otherwise bare film, truly enhancing this simple story while adding emotional depth in place of the ambiguity of its characters. Between Stormare's performance, the cinematography, and the forceful atmospheric music, "Small Town Murder Songs" achieves a unique kind of splendor.
I must say, "Small Town Murder Songs" is one of the best titles I have ever seen.
Joe Morgenstern of the Wall Street Journal sums up this film perfectly: the film "moves so deliberately, with such confident authority, that every small event takes on cumulative significance." Yes, but the slowness, or in Morgenstern's words, "deliberateness," of the film weighs on its subject. I think it's easy to know that the film knows where it's going, but that doesn't mean that we always do. And the title cards between the film's chapters are wholly unnecessary and do little to advance the plot or clarify the themes.
Peter Stormare is very good, creating a strong character out of subtle moments, and the rest of the cast rides on his coattails.
Overall, this is a good film, but it's pace can easily drag on the impatient viewer.
It had potential to be really good and most of the movie felt like a unique approach. But, it needed some bulk/substance - I think they should have cut it down to 30 minutes and a movie with 3 separate stories a la Amores Perros.
The best thing about the otherwise turgid "Small Town Murder Songs" is how much fun it is to watch Peter Stormare inhabit a character very different from the reprobates he usually plays.(Alas, the same cannot be said for Martha Plimpton.) In this story of a man wanting to escape or at least stop talking about his dangerous past, the main character is given a murky backstory while the mystery is simply glossed over. Even with its scant running time, the movie feels stretched to the limit. At least, the songs are cool.