Poor James Badge Dale. He had three movies at TIFF this year, each of which I saw, and he was easily the best part of all of them, when ranged on the quality scale from “ambiguous failure” all the way down to “sub-DTV garbage.” Henry Dunham’s The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, however, is a merely mediocre Reservoir Dogs, which I suppose is a good thing if you’re not thinking about it too much. It tells the story of a group of militiamen (the right-wing piss-drinking variety, not the revolutionary war type) who are forced to come together after one of their members shoots up a cop’s funeral. Nobody is sure exactly who did it, but Gannon (Dale), a former police interrogator, decides to interview each of his potential suspects. However, he’s also trying to protect Noah (Brian Geraghty) from scrutiny, a fellow militia member who also happens to be Gannon’s brother and an undercover cop.
All in all, it’s not a terrible idea for a film, though it’s a bit difficult to empathize or hate this particular militia, given how painfully bland their ideas as a whole are, and it limits how much fun one can have with it. Dunham’s not a terrible writer, but when you’ve got a solid cast of genre heavyweights like Dale, Chris Mulkey, Patrick Fischler, and Gene Jones delivering your dialogue, anything could sound good. He’s got a talent for rooting out interesting character motivations and the occasionally smart plot twist (though the final one is empty and disappointing), but his direction is so flat and uninteresting that the writing is often all you have to go on.
If you told me that this was originally meant to be a stage play, I would believe you, and the film suffers from that sense of staginess. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is too short to be particularly egregious, running a scant 88 minutes, but it never manages to be worth the time of the low-rent talents assembled for it.
Follow Nick Johnston on Twitter @onlysaysficus. Featured image courtesy of TIFF.