During the course of a night a former cop-turned-militia man investigates a shooting at a police funeral which originated from one of the men that are within his militia.
Films set in one location always bring up an interesting prospect as filmmakers are forced to look towards other areas to build up their audiences interest and makes them focus into building characters as well as creating an inventive visual language.
Movies like Alfred Hitchhock’s Rope, Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men have all utilized this technique in order to convey a sense of urgency and claustrophobia, all while giving us some gems of different genres.
Henry Dunham’s The Standoff At Sparrow Creek follows this model to great success and although we cannot compare Dunham to these aforementioned master’s of filmmaking, it is a stellar debut for the director and one of the best thrillers of the year.
This could have been a politically charged story, with its timely – and all too real – tale of right wing extremism and gun violence yet it never feels patronizing nor does it take a stance on what is right or wrong, just wanting to present an intriguing mystery in a world that is sadly all too familiar.
Besides the use of a single location for artistic purposes, the film had a small budget (less than one million dollars), something that isn’t evident as the filmmaker uses these limited resources in his favour by drenching everything in darkness to pay homage to its “film noir” roots without making it difficult to follow the action onscreen. In fact, there are several visually eye popping shots that are accomplished with ingenious use of minimalist lighting and manipulation of shadows.
The lack of a soundtrack is also something that might have come out of necessity but is an asset as the silence and superb sound mixing rackets the tension and adds to the sense of dread and danger, leaving us with the feeling that violence will erupt at any moment and for events to take a dangerous turn.
In charge of investigating the crime is our protagonist, the ex-police officer Gannon, played by James Badge Dale with the tough edge and intensity commonly seen in action heroes from the 70’s. Badge Dale is an actor who deserves to be much more known name as he’s always a highlight in whichever project he undertakes, here included.
For the 6 possible perpetrators found within the warehouse, Dunham put together a group of character actors who breathe life into these men with ambiguous morals and secrets. Besides their excellent performances, they’re are also backed up by a strong and smart script with razor sharp dialogue which counts on having your full attention.
Despite having very little in the way of action and shootouts with the majority of the film being Gannon interrogating the different members of the militia and trying to find the responsible for the attack, the film never slows down and keeps you guessing from the very first minute to the last.
At 88 minutes, this is a slow burn thriller without an ounce of fat which doesn’t overstay its welcome and reaches a satisfying conclusion that will make you want to go back a second time looking for all the clues you missed on the first viewing.
Henry Dunham’s debut The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is a masterclass in economical storytelling that proves a low budget should not be an obstacle in delivering a wonderfully performed, beautifully shot and tense action thriller.