Friday, January 27, 2012

Give It a Stream: Small Town Murder Songs

This film is like a novella by Faulkner, if he were Canadian and Mennonite rather than Mississippian and Christ-haunted. Small Town Murder Songs demonstrates a Faulknerian fascination with what happens when individual minds, bodies, and towns try to cope with the sort of epic passions and brutal violence that the Greeks invented drama to adequately capture. The film follows Walter (Peter Stormare), a middle-age police chief with a bloody past, as he struggles to subdue his inner demons while investigating a rape and murder in his community. The structure of the movie mimics the way Walter's mind consciously and subconsciously associates and revisits his own crime (and its harsh consequences on his romantic and familial relationships), while investigating the girl's death. The human impulse towards violence, which the film argues is pervasive and endemic, finds its objective correlative in both the bitchin' soundtrack--Canadian indie band Bruce Peninsula composed a series of pseudo-hymns and blues ballads that are shouted by a choir, hammering your brain like a baseball bat over shots of the deceptively tranquil landscape--and the religious exhortations that appear like chapter titles on the screen. Though the film only clocks in at an hour and fifteen minutes, its intricate characterization (aided by excellent performances not only by Stormare, but also Martha Plimpton and Jill Hennessy in supporting roles) and narrative pathos betray more sensitivity towards and curiosity about human beings than movies twice its length. Give it a stream!

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