Sometimes less is MORE…
With The Standoff At Sparrow Creek we get a calm and minimalist thriller with such a sinister little vibe to it that you can’t help but get sucked into without realizing it.
After a mass shooting at a police funeral, reclusive ex-cop Gannon (James Badge Dale) finds himself unwittingly forced out of retirement when he realizes that the killer belongs to the same militia he joined after quitting the force. Understanding that the shooting could set off a chain reaction of copycat violence across the country, Gannon quarantines his fellow militiamen in the remote lumber mill they call their headquarters. There, he sets about a series of grueling interrogations, intent on ferreting out the killer and turning him over to the authorities to prevent further bloodshed.
In a various obvious ode to the conspiracy laden thrillers of the 1970’s writer/director Henry Dunham’s The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is a nearly masterful exercise in minimalism that relies on a compact use of space and actors who understand the nature of the material in building tension through using words rather than elaborate action set pieces.
On his debut feature, Henry Dunham makes a very bold statement that actually isn’t seen all that often in the halls of Hollywood. The Standoff At Sparrow Creek actually has faith in itself and in its actors to carry a very tense and thrilling movie simply through the powerful use of space and having the faith in its actors to deliver the words on the page.
The film evokes so many thrillers from the 1970’s like The Parallax View and a myriad of others that actually allows for the narrative and the actors delivering dialogue to ramp up tension. In the bare and selectively lit sections of this warehouse that the action takes place in we see drama, intrigue, political backstabbing and emotional betrayal all take place with a simple glance and line delivery. Dunham comes off as an actor’s director as he creates ambiance and mood with a masterful touch.
The cinematography by Jackson Hunt, Production Design by Adam Dietrich and Art Direction from Jonathan Rudak all evoke a sense of claustrophobia that plays into the material so damn well. The walls are closing in on all of these characters in such a sly and subtle fashion that you can’t help but get engulfed with the drama and the tension that is slowly getting turned up that before you know it, your sweating bullets on the couch watching this all unfold.
The consistently underrated James Badge Dale leads this ensemble of character actors with great results. You’ll recognize some face like Chris Mulkey from Whiplash, Gene Jones from The Sacrament, Brian Geraghty from The Hurt Locker & Patrick Fischler from the likes of Lost & Mad Men to name a few things and it actually thrives on not being bogged down with stars. Had this been a Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt production we as an audience would have gotten bogged down in an overwhelming sense of misplaced personality. These characters and these actors really had to exist in the moments that were being played out on screen and it all works shockingly well from beginning to end.
With James Badge Dale anchoring the entire thing as it plays out he more than proves his ability to step up and carry any movie that might get placed in front of him, and he deserves the chance to carry something a little more high profile because he quite simply will knock it out of the park.
At the end of the day, thanks to the stylistic confidence of writer/director Henry Dunham and a very strong leading man performance from James Badge Dale, The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is one of those quiet little movies that packs one hell of a punch that any self-respecting cinephile won’t want to miss.
The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is available on VOD all over North American and playing in theatres in select theatres in the United States as well.