Too Late

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Tripp Stel­nicki

TOO LATE, crime drama, not rated, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3c hiles

Five scenes make up writer/di­rec­tor Den­nis Hauck’s first fea­ture-length ef­fort, each shot on 35 mm film, each pre­sent­ing a sin­gle con­tin­u­ous take of around 20 min­utes. This am­bi­tious tech­ni­cal com­po­si­tion begs a viewer’s judg­ment: Is Too Late more than the sum of its gim­micks?

Each act opens on a dam­sel in a dis­tinct state of dis­tress and/or un­dress. Th­ese damsels each presently en­counter Samp­son (John Hawkes of

Winter’s Bone and HBO’s Dead­wood), the seen-it-all, hard-drink­ing, straight-talk­ing de­tec­tive who — when not ex­pelling en­joy­ably over­cooked one-lin­ers that could have been sten­ciled in comic-book speech bub­bles — an­chors this stylis­ti­cally am­bi­tious noir.

The film presents a non­lin­ear un­rav­el­ing of a crime, rem­i­nis­cent of Reser­voir Dogs (1992), set in near-past Los An­ge­les (the flip-phone era or there­abouts). In its con­cur­rently dis­crete and un­bro­ken struc­tur­ing, the film presents al­most as a group of short plays, or one frac­tured five­act play. You see how the deed goes down, you learn how the par­tic­u­lars came to be in­volved (and how they came to be so par­tic­u­lar), and you wit­ness the af­ter­math — the or­der shuf­fled so as to keep cer­tain cards hid­den un­til the fifth episode.

The film im­parts an ap­pro­pri­ately shabby and lived-in feel. It is an ash­tray aes­thetic that Hauck achieves — bien noir. Ev­ery­one party to the var­i­ously seedy pro­ceed­ings has a trou­bled past, in­clud­ing Samp­son him­self, and for most of th­ese strippers and crooked busi­ness­men, the present isn’t tip-top, ei­ther. This note-per­fect tone is ac­cen­tu­ated by a dry touch of campi­ness, the sort of syn­tax El­more Leonard af­fected so well, where no­body’s as smart as they’d like to think, the com­pelling talky stretches over­laid with dra­matic irony.

The con­tin­u­ous takes are a finer line to walk. Bird­man (2014) syn­the­sizes an un­cut flow into a dizzy­ing, deliri­ous, hal­lu­ci­na­tory nar­ra­tive, and won mul­ti­ple Os­cars for its trou­ble; at the other pole, sin­gle-shot cam­er­a­work just might make you dizzy. Hauck’s di­rec­tion comes out some­where in be­tween. The nar­ra­tive is com­pelling enough that, for long stretches, you for­get the cam­era, which sig­ni­fies a bril­liant job done — as the ac­tion is hardly sta­tion­ary. But when char­ac­ters are seated in close quar­ters, you can’t help an am­biva­lence to­ward Hauck’s com­mit­ment to this visual de­vice.

Hawkes, as ever, is worth the price of ad­mis­sion, and his put-upon, know­ing charm ul­ti­mately carries Too Late be­yond its me­chan­i­cal em­broi­dery, and Samp­son be­yond the rote hard-boiled archetype of a pri­vate eye. The ex­pres­sions of his jaded al­tru­ism — cause and casualty of the orig­i­nat­ing crime — carry the nar­ra­tive from A to B in sev­eral sin­gle mo­tions, even more so than the cam­era.

Take five: John Hawkes

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