Movie Review: ‘The Standoff at Sparrow Creek’
Starring: James Badge Dale, Patrick Fischler, and Chris Mulkey
Plot: A militia holds up in their headquarters when they suspect one of their members of being a mass shooter.
Speaking as a news-watching American, there is a secret preemptive clench whenever a mass shooting is reported on. It’s hidden deep under all the surface feelings of dread and sadness. It is anticipating some militia local to the shooting speaking about it dismissively thus stopping the conversation about the dangers right in their tracks. Above all else, it is heart-breaking that it works. This, mixed with a general opinion that they will be the last lines of defense when (not if) the country collapses, makes them seem much scarier than their original intention (the 2nd amendment was written as such because there was no plans for a standing military, which changed 13 years later, when one was established). That means writer/director Henry Dunham has a razor’s edge to walk in terms of nuance. To have a protagonist that is a member of a militia, he cannot fully embrace the darkness nor obscure it.
We’ve got a supposedly reformed white supremacist, an aloof former high school outsider, an old man who got away with a murder, a few random stereotypes (the aggro leader and the nebbish bookkeeper), and the former cop, Gannon, played by James Badge Dale. Gannon has been tasked by the aggro leader, Ford (a great turn for character actor, Chris Mulkey), to interrogate the members in the wake of a mass shooting at a police funeral. A gun that was identified as the murder weapon is missing from their arsenal, so they are sure it was one of their numbers and are refusing to take the fall for a member acting independently. The interrogation gives the characters two chances to define themselves. Once, under their own bias point of view, and a second time through their interaction with Gannon. It is impressive how clear everyone’s character is expressed this way. The only character that ever made use of a flashback was Gannon himself, and while that didn’t distract much, it could have easily been cut.
It takes after a lot of single room thrillers, like Reservoir Dogs. All the tension is built into the clashing egos and personal stakes. Here, Gannon has a secret that he is hiding from the rest of his members: that their 7th member is not only his brother but an active duty police officer. Gannon is hoping if he can find the killer first, they won’t look any further into his brother. It is just missing the trademark 90s lyricism of Reservoir Dogs. The dialog is much more matter-of-fact and relies just as heavily on what isn’t said as it does on what is.
It also has a greater spacial awareness. It all takes place in a suspicious looking warehouse, dimly lit by floodlights and the occasional glowing garage door frame. They often appear lit from the floor up. It gives them an isolated look, as if they are navigating a dark forest or cave. It adds to the feeling of isolation, specifically that it is manufactured.
It unfortunately doesn’t quite stick the landing. It is a decent twist ending, one that indie thrillers often can’t keep themselves from employing. It still makes for a decent thriller, I just think the twist forces Dunham to lose grip on what he could have said about militias and performative machismo.