Last month, when I added the 2017 film “Small Town Crime” to my Movies You Might Not Know list, I mentioned that it was John Hawkes’ first opportunity as a leading man — but I was wrong. In 2015, he starred in a quirky drama called “Too Late” by rookie writer/director Dennis Hauck that is now streaming on Netflix.
The first thing that caught my eye about this movie was the Kodak logo right up front, announcing that it was shot on real 35mm film. Another thing that makes it different from most cinema fare is that Hauck shot it in five unbroken 20-minute scenes, a throwback to Hitchcock’s “Rope,” which was done in 10-minute chunks. That puts a lot of pressure on the cast and crew, because you don’t want to be the one to blow a take in the nineteenth minute and force everyone to start all over again. It also means there are no close-ups or reverse-angle pickups — the camera pans and zooms but doesn’t cut during each extended shot.
For instance, there’s one early shot where Dorothy Mahler (Crystal Reed) is atop a hill in a park, where she takes out a cell phone and makes a call. That’s when the camera simultaneously pans and zooms way down the hill to an apartment balcony, where we see the recipient of the call answer the phone. When that conversation is over, the perspective pulls back and up the hill again, where she continues the rest of the scene. At first, that technical conceit seems like a burden the movie will never shake, but even though I didn’t know about it ahead of time, I warmed to it as the story progressed.
As for the plot, it’s very noir-ish. Hawkes plays a private investigator named Mel Sampson who is not only investigating a murder that he might have a personal connection to. Along the way, we meet heavies like Gordy Lyons (the always reliable Robert Forster) and Roger (Jeff Fahey), as well as stripper Mary (Natalie Zea who first caught my eye in the FX series “Justified”). Hauck’s dialogue is witty and clever, giving Hawkes plenty of banter with the assorted low-lifes he’s forced to deal with.
It all feels a bit Tarantino-esque, complete with a story told out of sequence a la “Pulp Fiction,” but by the end I had no trouble connecting the dots, the characters, and their actions. Best of all, Hawkes owns every scene he appears in, with a performance that seems low-key but actually pops off the screen.
I liked “Too Late” enough to add it to my Movies You Might Not Know list. Find it on Netflix and let me know if you agree it’s worthwhile.