About halfway through the new Netflix indie, Small Crimes, I recalled a line from a Todd Snider song: “Sometimes you have to kill a boy just to keep his ass in line.” Small Crimes is full of boys that need a good killing…in one way or another…and the film gleefully obliges.
Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is about to be released from jail when the film opens. He’s sitting through one final counseling session with a priest, talking about his desire for a second chance at a good life. He’s got a six-years sober chip, but, as his mother points out later in the film, how hard can it be to stay sober in jail? Joe moves back in with his parents, neither of whom seem all that excited to have him back. He falls for in-home nurse Charlotte (House of Card‘s Molly Parker), but it’s probably not true love, because just as soon as he’s gotten out of jail, he’s sucked right back into his old life of crime and corruption. A crooked ex-cop, Joe and his cronies failed to tie up all the loose ends from a previous job, and, well, somebody needs killing. Along the way, a mountain of bodies will pile up.
Directed by Evan Katz and adapted from a novel of the ssame name by Dave Zeltserman, Small Crimes also stars Jacki Weaver (although criminally underused here), Frobert Forster, and Gary Cole. It’s a black comedy about, as Katz puts it, “Bullshit. Specifically human bullshit” and something of the social and political climates in which we find ourselves. Katz wanted to see how far he could force audiences to go with a reprehensible character like Joe.
Coster-Waldau does a fine job of capturing a character that can’t do right no matter how hard he tries, and the film features, at times, some genuinely funny, if twisted, humor in its frequently confusing plot. However, its focus on the criminal element, at the expense of family dynamics, feels a little like overkill. Perhaps this is because we get enough of large- and small-scale corruption in the real world. What we need now, more than ever, is not a test of our cinematic endurance, but films with narratives that inspire us to break those cycles of corruption and violence that plague us.
Small Crimes (95 mins.) is rated R for language and violence.