Thursday, July 21, 2011
Writer and director Ed Gass-Donnelly’s Small Town Murder Songs places a Twin Peaks-like murder in a setting that is more Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon than David Lynch’s fictional Washington town. When a nude young woman is found dead next to a lake in a small Canadian Mennonite community, the ensuing police investigation uncovers a seedy underbelly of strip clubs, bike gangs and drug dealers in the rural region.
In the film, Peter Stormare—whose most memorable previous role was as the sociopath kidnapper in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo—portrays one of the town’s police officers, Walter. One of the movie’s strong points is the uniquely written Walter, a conflicted individual who can barely control some serious rage issues as the investigation deepens. A powerful flashback, where Walter looks like a rabid dog while assaulting one of the film’s characters, successfully conveys the police officer’s latent violent tendencies.
Walter is clearly hoping to pin the murder on his ex-lover’s new boyfriend. While Walter is now shacking up with Sam (a wonderful Martha Plimpton of The Goonies and TV’s Raising Hope fame), he can’t seem to move past his former relationship with Rita (Jill Hennessy of Crossing Jordan and Wild Hogs). Actually, one of the film’s biggest leaps of faith is believing that the luminous Rita, who resembles Catherine Zeta-Jones, would ever be in a long-term relationship with the sad sack, push broom-mustached Walter.
Another one of the film’s faults is that Gass-Donnelly, who used to be a music video director, relies way too much on a collection of obtrusive tribal pop hymns from a Canadian indie band called Bruce Peninsula. Apparently, even the inspiration for this film came from the Canadian indie rock music scene, specifically a 2003 album titled Small Town Murder Scene by the Canadian rock outfit FemBots.
Already making a name for himself up north, Gass-Donnelly’s last film, 2007’s This Beautiful City, was nominated for four Genie Awards, which is Canada’s version of the Oscars. Meanwhile, Small Town Murder Songs picked up the Best Film award at the Torino Film Festival and helped Plimpton secure the Best Actress prize at the Whistler Film Festival. The thoughtful 75-minute feature caused Variety to proclaim Gass-Donnelly one of “10 Directors to Watch” alongside up-and-comers including Patrick Lussier (Submarine) and Denis Villeneuve (Incendies).
Beware that the mystery in Small Town Murder Songs is not much of a mystery but rather a way to enter the lives of these characters and take in the film’s lovely, poetic shots of rural Ontario. Still, in a season where most films are all about the action, Small Town Murder Songs imparts a strong sense of place and features a singularly memorable character in conflicted cop Walter.
SMALL TOWN MURDER SONGS HH1/2 Directed by Ed Gass-Donnelly • Starring Peter Stormare, Martha Plimpton and Jill Hennessy • Rated R, 75 min. • At the Osio Cinemas.