Small Town Murder Songs (2011) – 4/5

Short and subtle, with a plot that isn’t quite as developed as it should be, but some great performances and a beautiful style that more than make up for it. Mostly. Chances are that you’ve never heard of this film, which is understandable given its limited release and small, seemingly non-existent marketing campaign. I only became interested after coming across its brilliant trailer, which is a work of art in of itself and should be watched immediately! But yeah, “twas” the trailer piqued my interest, and who knows, it might for you as well, though I imagine it’s probably a hard film to find.

Anyway, the film is pretty good. Very, very well shot and acted and directed; the guy at the helm clearly knows what he’s doing, even if he does go a tad overboard with the religious music and the use of big giant captions at the beginning of each act. Haven’t seen that in a movie before. The main character, who is actually a pretty well-known B-actor in what may very well be his first lead role in a film, does an excellent job portraying this emotionally conflicted cop type who no one takes seriously. He also looks a heck of a lot like Stanley Tucci in this for some reason, even though the actor looks nothing like Tucci in real life. Weird costume choice, but it works.

The acting in general is great. It’s the mark of a good director, he who can bring out such fine performances from not just one or two actors, but everyone in his cast. It’s very impressive. And the visual style is beautiful as all heck: steady and controlled movements, all shot under a subtle, almost oppressive light reminiscent of “No Country for Old Men.”

The story unfortunately doesn’t quite work. Though I admired that not everything is explained, neither what came before nor what will come after the events that are depicted here, the film could have used another 10 minutes or so at the end to give us some closure. Then again, maybe it didn’t, I haven’t quite decided. The film is remarkably short, I’ll give it that, and never overstays its welcome like it very well could have had it been a full 120 minutes long.

Ultimately, it’s a really long short film that leaves one too many gaps unfilled. Maybe it would work best if not taken literally; if the thing were more metaphorical than literal, if it were treated as a visual representation of the emotional turmoil suffered by our main character after the events that take place before the film begins, if that makes sense. **SPOILERS** If this is indeed the case, everything that happens in the film shouldn’t be taken seriously since it all ultimately is just a construct designed to give the audience an opportunity to understand our main character’s current psychological and emotional state, like what “Black Swan” and “The Killer Inside Me” did in a way. **END SPOILERS** It would certainly explain a few coincidences here and there, and the crazy music/captions, and the haphazard ending. I don’t know, though. Just my theory.

I liked it, but it’s not for everyone.

 

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