Netflix Movie of the Week: “Small Crimes” cause big trouble

smallcrimes

There’s been a lot of talk among film critics lately about how, while Netflix TV shows get a lot of attention, the original movies released every week seem to fall through the cracks. And that’s a shame given that Netflix has been busy buying up a lot of good indie movies at film festivals like Sundance and Toronto.

That means good paydays for indie filmmakers, which is great. And most of the films probably wouldn’t have played theatrically outside the major markets anyway. But the downside is that Netflix doesn’t seem to put much promotion behind these films the way they do “Iron Fist” or “Girlboss,” meaning they can be impossible for most viewers to find. When a fan of “Happy Christmas” and “Drinking Buddies” doesn’t even realize that Joe Swanberg’s latest film “Win It All” premiered on Netflix a couple of weeks ago, there’s a problem.

So, I want to contribute in my own small way to highlighting the original movies that Netflix (and, to a lesser extent, other sites like Hulu and Amazon Prime) premiere each week. The “Netflix Movie of the Week” will showcase a worthy original streaming film that could use your attention. The rest is up to you.

First up: E.L Katz’s follow-up to the deliciously twisted “Cheap Thrills,” “Small Crimes“:

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau looks like hell.

This is no mean feat, considering how absurdly handsome the Danish actor, famous as Jaime Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” usually is. But with an oversized goatee, hangdog look and unflattering earth-tone wardrobe, Coster-Waldau disappears inside the character of Joe Denton, crooked cop turned ex-con. It’s a terrific performance, the kind that really makes you rethink what you thought an actor could do.

“Small Crimes” opens with Joe being released from prison for a crime that’s initially kept hazy. The fact that the local newspaper refers to him as “Slash Cop” probably isn’t a good sign. Newly sober and looking to reconnect with his daughters after six years away, Joe comes home at least mouthing the right words about redemption, dues paid and lessons learned. But the tension in the screenplay (by Katz and Macon Blair) comes from both past and present. Just how bad was Joe before he went away? And how much will it take to turn him bad again?

As it turns out, not much. We get a sense of the depths of Joe’s depravity by the level of animosity most of the locals feel towards him, from the sneering Detective Pleasant (the magnificently scummy Gary Cole) to the terrifying scion of the local mob boss family (“Cheap Thrills”‘ Pat Healy). Even Joe’s parents (the terrific Robert Forster and Jacki Weaver) are wary around him.

The screenplay keeps us in the dark largely as to what Joe actually did to deserve all this venom, which is a refreshing choice, letting us fill in the blanks to some degree. “Small Crimes” is adapted from a novel, and the film seems to have retained more characters than it quite knows what to do with, including Molly Parker as a doting nurse and Blair as an old friend.

Trying to figure out who all these people are and their past relationship to Joe takes up the first hour of “Small Crimes,” which is enjoyable but not exactly taut in the way “Cheap Thrills” was. But things pick up considerably in the final act, where plot strands collide violently, and Joe’s attempts to clean up the messes he left behind only lead to more messes. We sense he’s the sort of corrupt cop who was good at cleaning up after other people’s messes — wiping away fingerprints, stashing money, tossing guns in the river. Cleaning himself up requires a level of accountability he’s just not prepared for.

Aside from a final, furious gunfight, most of the violence in “Small Crimes” is viewed from a remove, through windows, in particular a brutal fistfight seen entirely through a rain-spattered car window. The final scene in “Small Crimes” is the best, perfectly summing up Joe’s sad little life and giving him a meager but undeniably real attempt at redemption.

 

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