A Midwestern Gothic drama. Does it make the cut?

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Small Town Murder Songs is another one of those hidden films that creeps its way into Amazon or Netflix. I had never heard of the film before viewing it, and was overall glad I did. An aging cop who is struggling to turn a new chapter in his life must face temptation to return to his violent ways. The premise in interesting, and the first half of the film delivers fairly well.

The film acts as a vehicle for Peter Stormare to flex his acting muscles a bit more than he has of late. Stormare is one of those actors who I have always felt was capable of greatness, but has never been given the attention he deserves. He does well in this film, and he appears older in this than anything I have seen him in. The little movements he makes, the appearance of always being tired, or perhaps even indifferent to his surroundings present him as a broken man. After a violent episode cost him his relationship some time ago, our cop chooses a life of non-violence, finding religion and what appears to be a certain level of peace in his life.

The challenge he faces is when a woman is found murdered (and presumably raped). Further complicating the issue is that he knows the likely killer. Without hard evidence or the patience to fully conduct the investigation, the temptation of violence returns. Watching the struggle between the past self and future becoming is interesting, but the film falls a little short.

Part of the problem with this movie is that it is so obvious who the killer is—and this disrupts the narrative a bit. No one seems surprised, which makes the audience not surprised. Instead, we have a 50/50 shot of watching a man fulfill his goals to becoming a new self. While this is an interesting story, too much time is spent on the investigation. We need to get more into the characters’ heads for a film like this to work perfectly.

While the narrative might be somewhat troubled, the acting, directing, and music choices are excellent. Powerful religious music booms over banal scenes and shows a tension within this small town. Is violence and damnation always lurking beneath? In short, a lot goes right in this film. It is obviously a passion project from the creators. Further, it is a refreshing crime story from the normal genre stuff we see rehashed all the time. An imperfect film, but worth a watch. 7/10

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