Small Town Murder Songs: Doing Justice to the Cop Movie

Boldly succinct yet confident enough to take its time, Toronto writer-director Ed Gass-Donnelly’s follow-up to 2007’s This Beautiful City interrogates the hazards of character with devastating precision. An unrecognizably plump and mustachioed Peter Stormare plays Walter, a rural Ontario police chief whose investigation of a homicide leads to the boyfriend (Stephen Eric McIntyre) of a former squeeze (Jill Hennessy) and, more pointedly, to his own barely concealed disposition for violence. Tenuously kept in check by his palliative Christianity, a friendship with a local Mennonite (Jackie Burroughs), and the support of his sweet but one-dimensional waitress girlfriend (Martha Plimpton in a tough, touching performance), Walter’s rage finally gives way in an apocalyptic act of self-destructive grace. Gass-Donnelly cannily uses Stormare’s hair-trigger screen persona (he’s best remembered as the monosyllabic wood-chipper hitman in Fargo and a slippery mobster in TV’s Prison Break) to give Walter gravity, and effectively parcels the drama via biblical intertitles and wailing neo-gospel tunes courtesy of Canadian indie band Bruce Peninsula. If, like Walter, Small Town Murder Songs is occasionally too laconic for its own good, it also sidesteps the baroquely overstuffed, Se7en-ish trappings that sink lesser crime dramas (AMC’s overhyped The Killing comes to mind) in favor of nuance and compassion. In a cop movie, no less.

 
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