Too Late (2015)
Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2015 Fantastic Fest. For more information on the festival visit fantasticfest.com and follow Fantastic Fest on Twitter at @fantasticfest.
Film festival attendees are explorers in an undiscovered mountain of cinema. Sometimes we come up short, but every now and again we journey into a mysterious cave and discover a treasure that should be on display for the world to enjoy. Too Late is one of those rare, beautiful gems that simply must be seen the way writer and director Dennis Hauck intended — in glorious 35mm. The film is set in Los Angeles with a private investigator named Mel Sampson (John Hawkes) investigating the disappearance of a young woman. His search takes him to some interesting places in LA, much like a classic noir; the sets, dialogue and cinematography are highly polished and stylized. Too Late is presented in five scenes, shot on five reels of film, each scene shot in one continuous take. This would be an intimidating task for any filmmaker, especially on film whereas shooting on digital is the more economical approach. There’s something special about watching the grainy goodness unfold on the big screen.
The audience is tossed into the mix from the opening frame. The first scene serves as a prologue. It’s a classic and skillful feat to pull off. We’re introduced to Dorothy (Crystal Reed), a stripper that needs to escape danger. She meets some smooth-talking guys, the dialogue is sharp and drum tight. Upon the conclusion of the prologue, Sampson spends the rest of the film investigating the events laid out in the first scene. The neo-noir style is refreshing.
John Hawkes is a powerhouse in this film. He’s one of the most talented working actors today and delivers his finest performance since Martha Marcy May Marlene. This man should be the lead in far more films. His deliveries are confident, you could throw him in any noir film and he would stand out. Sampson is a tarnished hero. He’s easy to root for. He has the whole world against him, but he soldiers on in his quest to find the truth. Sampson is one hell of a character. The role feels custom-designed for John Hawkes, nobody else could have played this role. The rest of the cast does a fine job of easing the audience into this world. Big names like Forster and Fahey are there to show their support. Buy-in is organic in this film thanks to the script and terrific ensemble cast.
John Hawkes is a powerhouse in this film. He’s one of the most talented working actors today and delivers his finest performance since Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Long, continuous shots have been all the rage these days: Birdman and Victoria are recent examples. Too Late contains extended shots that push the limits of one reel of film, which runs a maximum of 22 minutes. One can only imagine the amount of preparation and rehearsal that took place. One broken take from anyone and start over again. Cinematographer Bill Fernandez shoots the hell out of this film. Too Late is aesthetically pleasing and contains complex camera movements. It never feels showy in its presentation, we’re along for the ride.
Hauck and his team nail every final moment in each scene. There is a punch-line or a cliffhanger that thrills and excites, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats. As mentioned before, the non-linear narrative is a deliberate choice. Each scene gains maximum emotional impact as a result of knowing (or not knowing) the events that take place before or after said scene. The narrative structure will appeal to cinema lovers of all levels; this is the kind of film you wish you could watch the for the first time over and over again.
Some will criticize the way women are portrayed in this film. The female characters range from stripper to trophy wife. This decision may sprout think-pieces regarding the objectification of women in Too Late. This is hardly the film to form an argument either way. This world is gritty, grimy and practically oozes off the screen. It makes sense that nearly every female character is scantily clad.
Cinematographer Bill Fernandez shoots the hell out of this film. Too Late is aesthetically pleasing and contains complex camera movements. It never feels showy in its presentation, we’re along for the ride.
As mentioned before, the script is razor sharp. The dialogue is poetic and super relatable. It’s fun listening to a couple of actors debate the difference between: a habit, a routine and a vice. From listening to Hauck during a Q&A and through our interview, it’s clear that the words come straight from his life experiences. The only influence Hauck conceded was Jerry Seinfeld and that may explain the observational humor in this film.
Too Late has been compared to the likes of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. They both have similar elements: snappy dialogue, observational humor, set in Los Angeles, non-linear narrative and even a few Tarantino alums including Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey and Sydney Tammia Poitier. Here’s the thing, Tarantino does not have ownership on polished, quick-witted banter and a broken up narrative.
Too Late is a labor of love and a must-see for cinephiles. Hauck shows much promise in his feature-length debut and John Hawkes delivers the goods. The film is an emotional ride that will tickle the heartstrings and deliver belly laughs. This is Hauck’s artistic baby and it’s his goal to present this film in 35mm at all costs. This will be a challenging task as multiplexes have gone digital, and few art house theaters outside Los Angeles and New York can still project 35mm film. Too Late was by far my favorite discovery of Fantastic Fest 2015. If you have the opportunity to see this film in a theater in wonderful 35mm film, take that chance because you never know when that opportunity will present itself again.
Too Late is a labor of love and a must-see for cinephiles.