A crime thriller with a heavy touch of swagger and style neatly describes the SXSW premiered Small Crimes, garnering a distribution on Netflix this year. Let’s look at the evidence. Director and co-writer Evan Katz packed quite a punch with the indie and very black comedy Cheap Thrills in 2014, forcing human decision making to the very edge, blurring any practical behavior with violent, messed up shenanigans. Then we have co-writer Macon Blair, who may have a familiar face as an actor, recently made his directorial debut with I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore – a kinetic, brilliantly original neighborhood crime caper. With the screenplay adapted from the novel Small Crimes by Dave Zeltserman, the film version certainly has strong elements of the previous works of Katz and Blair in tone and content, making this a briskly compelling partnership resulting in an instant hit.
Small Crimes is headlined by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, fresh off the Game of Thrones madness as Jamie Lannister. Here, he might perhaps replace the mantle king slayer with cop slasher. Released from prison after heavily assaulting a fellow crime official, now ex-cop Joe Denton just wants a quiet return to reality. Given the baggage of hatred and bitterness he left behind simmering over the years, a simple life is the last thing he is getting. Denton crosses paths with numerous dilemmas and enemies, all the while he is adamant on making amends with his wife and two young daughters – who have not been allowed to see their father for the duration of his sentence that they might not even recognize him. There’s immediate trouble for Denton around every corner, sucked into the seedy world of crime antics he is desperate to avoid in order to get his life back on track. We know he is bad news, and understand his parents’ concerns and his detractors’ resentment, but still somehow support Denton’s cause – however things may turn out.
Small Crimes is a riveting picture, backed by some frenetic pacing, smart, sassy writing, and accomplished filmmaking. Plaudits too go to the eclectic cast, with Coster-Waldau finely-suited to a leading man status, albeit of the unsavory variety. He still has a magnetic presence on screen (checking out much of his native Danish work will only emphasize this). The supporting cast also shines, offering differing strands of Denton’s past and current life. Robert Forster and Jacki Weaver are aging to play these roles as if plucked just for them, resonating as protective parents all too aware of the dangers potentially available to their grand-daughters. Molly Parker, Pat Healy, and Gary Cole also provide memorable character turns, boosting both the prospects and pitfalls of Coster-Waldau’s mixed up Denton. The turbulent plot turns and set-pieces make for tantalizing viewing, including some moments you perhaps were not expecting, but appear rather fitting all the same.