The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (Henry Dunham, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.
Just a few months ago, I had never heard of James Badge Dale, and now all of a sudden (or so it seems) he appears in three movies I have watched in quick succession: Little Woods, Hold the Dark and The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, writer/director Henry Dunham’s feature debut. He is consistently good, even if the films vary in quality (Little Woods is the standout of the three). Here, he plays Gannon, a former cop who is now part of a militia group that finds itself on the defensive when a mass killing at a police funeral appears to have been pulled off by one of their own. As Gannon leads the internal investigation, racing to find the culprit before his former law-enforcement colleagues find their group, the men quickly grow suspicious of each other, raising the tension ever higher. It’s a textbook taut drama, imperfect in some ways, but still engaging through to the end.
The movie starts perfectly, with just the bare minimum of character set-up to establish our cast of misfits. The supporting actors shine alongside Dale, with Happy Anderson (Hit Men), Patrick Fischler (Her Last Will) and Chris Mulkey (The Surface) among my favorites. They are all drawn to their warehouse hideout after hearing of the attack on a police scanner, worried that a group like theirs will be seen as the culprit. Evidence discovered in the warehouse then leads them to believe that it was, in fact, one of them who committed the act, and what follows is a series of lunges, feints and parries as they look for the perpetrator. As they proceed, however, we wonder about their concern: what is the purpose of an armed militia if not to attack the government? What are they so afraid of? That is, indeed, the question.
Unfortunately, as the story progresses, the double-dealings and betrayals eventually become less thrilling and more tiresome, the eventual climax a somewhat disappointing “that was what this was all about?” letdown. But given that most of the film proceeds via sharp dialogue and implied (until the end) violence, rather than adrenaline-fueled action, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, for much of its brief 88-minute running time, stands as a testament to the power of good writing and direction, a model of independent filmmaking that leaves one satisfied at the bulk of its construction.