After an excruciatingly long wait, Evan Katz has debuted his second feature film as director. You may remember that Katz’s debut as director, Cheap Thrills, took SXSW by storm four years ago and ultimately went on to win the Midnight Audience Award. In the time since, Katz has given us a short on the criminally underrated ABC’s of Death 2 and has a writing credit on the first season of Hap and Leonard, now on Netflix for your viewing pleasure. All of these are excellent examples of Katz’s talent, but I’m selfish and wanted another feature-length movie with “Directed by Evan Katz” slapped on it. His latest film, Small Crimes, more than satiated that craving – for the time being, anyway.
Fans expecting something in the vein of Cheap Thrills may be taken aback but how assured and steadily paced of a film Small Crimes is. This is a modern noir heavy on story and steeped in dialogue, where the dark comedy isn’t a release but a bitter realization of the heavy ironies present in the story. The violence is inevitable, but it is always shocking and at most times unexpected. Even when you’re expecting the violence, it’s worse than you imagine both visually and emotionally. These moments work so well because Katz, working with Macon Blair in adapting David Zeltserman’s novel for the big screen, has such dedication in setting all his dominos up. When they fall, it’s not easy to watch. You feel helpless and mortified at the carnage unfolding on screen.
This is a modern noir heavy on story and steeped in dialogue, where the dark comedy isn’t a release but a bitter realization of the heavy ironies present in the story.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars as Joe, a former cop heading back home after spending six years in jail for attempted murder. Once home, he immediately finds himself wrapped up in the mess he caused, only this time he has lost his hold on everything he once held dear – parents, children, and wife. The more Joe tries to fix things, the worse things get. Coster-Waldau’s great gifts as an actor is the subtle way he can play tortured, and he is nothing short of terrific here in the lead role. On paper, there is nothing about Joe that is remotely likable, but Coster-Waldau succeeds in making us feel for Joe and understand him. It’s hard to watch what unfolds, but it’s even harder to look away.
The supporting cast sprinkled throughout the film amplifies that “hard to look away” aspect of the film in that every five minutes another great character actor shows up. Robert Forster injects some gravitas as Joe’s dad, while Jacki Weaver is a powerhouse as a brutally honest mother. It’s hard for me to name a time where I’ve had this much fun watching Gary Cole. Here, he plays a batshit crazy homicide detective, appearing to relish every moment playing such a slimy dude. Pat Healy is unforgettable as a brutally violent thug who has a beef to pick against Joe. Larry Fessenden, Molly Parker, and Macon Blair all show too, each in their own way adding more shades to the bleak atmosphere in which Katz has chosen to set his story.
Small Crimes is in many ways about its destination, and that destination is simultaneously inevitable and shocking. That being said, there are times where the journey seems to meander but only because we’re not sure where the film is taking us. A second viewing is bound to reveal more about the journey and in turn make said destination pack even more of a wallop. It is unquestionable here that Katz is an essential voice to independent film, taking us to dark places that reveal harsh truths about humanity. Small Crimes is an excellent exercise in using pacing to build a dynamite payoff featuring one hell of a supporting cast. It may be too slow and restrained for some, but anyone who loves character-driven stories about failed redemption won’t want to miss this. It hits Netflix April 28.
Small Crimes is an excellent exercise in using pacing to build a dynamite payoff featuring one hell of a supporting cast. It may be too slow and restrained for some, but anyone who loves character-driven stories about failed redemption won't want to miss this.