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“The Standoff At Sparrow Creek” Is A Claustrophobic And Compelling Mystery

Here’s a film where the term “they don’t make em like this anymore” really does apply. A largely single location independent drama with stylized dialogue and a less than politically correct edge? Mixing David Mamet with Quentin Tarantino would normally mean an indie with a wise ass streak and a modern sensibility. Here, with The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, what we have is something far more old fashioned than that. Essentially a whodunit, this flick offers up a compelling tale that keeps you wired in right up until the very end. With a single minded focus, it tells a razor sharp story about as well as it can be told, complete with a hell of an ending, to boot.

A drama/mystery, the movie is literally a standoff. Gannon (James Badge Dale) is a former cop who lives in the woods and is a member of a local militia. While out hunting one day, he hears gunfire. Back at his trailer, he finds out that there has been a mass shooting at a police funeral. The recluse heads to a warehouse where his group meets, awaiting the other members. Quickly, one missing automatic rifle makes it clear that the shooter is among them. Deputized by the leader Ford (Chris Mulkey), he begins interrogating each and every one of them. It’s a race against time, as they’re hoping not to be fingered by the police, all while trying to prevent a spree of violence from sweeping the country. As Gannon interviews them all, tensions rise, leading to a sense that anybody could be the culprit. Henry Dunham writes and directs, while the other members of the militia include Happy Anderson, Robert Aramayo, Patrick Fischler, Brian Geraghty, and Gene Jones. Cinematography here is by Jackson Hunt.

There’s a welcome lack of politics on display here, especially considering how right wing the characters would be in real life. The characters all are anti the police, but almost all have three dimensional reasons, or the cops in question are as bad or worse than the militia. It may still turn off some viewers, but the film uses dirty cops and fringe militia members not as political tools, but as gritty characters who can anchor a story like this. Dunham’s script is smart, the mystery is compelling, and the reveal at the end is legitimately surprising. In telling this kind of tale, he really does ace it.

James Badge Dale rarely gets a chance to be the star of a flick, but he grabs the bull by the horns here. Among other things, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is an excellent showcase for how well he functions as a leading man. Dale is intense as all hell, yet there’s a humanity within that drives you towards him. The various interrogation sequences are expertly handled, leaving you on the edge of your seat. Dunham’s filmmaking is partly the reason, but the through-line from start to finish is Dale. In a just world, this sort of turn would get him on the radar for some major starring roles. Already an ace supporting player, he deserves to have his star shine brighter.

Starting today, fans of Agatha Christie style tales will find a gritty cinematic cousin to that in The Standoff at Sparrow Creek. With a rock solid cast, solid writing and directing, as well as an ability to draw you in throughout, this is accomplished work. Dale shines among the cast, while Dunham is an up and comping filmmaker to really watch out for. You’ll have to go looking in order to find this one, but it’s worth the trouble. Here in January, it stands out as the best thing to hit so far this year. Usually that’s damning with faint praise, but that’s not the case. This is just high quality indie cinema…

Be sure to check out The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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