By Rick Bentley
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is the first feature film for writer/director Henry Dunham, but he has already cracked the formula for making a quality movie. It’s a simple equation: Take a great cast, add a solid story and present in a fascinating setting. And here’s the bonus: It doesn’t take a load of money.
Dunham’s production starts with a shooting at a police funeral. Fear that the attack will be blamed on the militia he has joined, reclusive ex-cop Gannon (James Badge Dale) is forced out of retirement against his best wishes to find out if someone in his group was the shooter. The fear is the attack could inspire copycat violence across the country and deadly police action on his group.
Gannon and his fellow militiamen come together in a remote lumber mill they have been using as their headquarters. They decide the only way to figure out the truth is through a series of gruelling interrogations. What Gannon finds during the process is more than he expected.
Dunham has put together a strong cast – many are familiar faces after having played a host of character roles over the years. It starts with Dale (World War Z), who has portrayed a number of law enforcement roles. He has an honest face, but there is something about the way he carries himself that makes him a bit of a mystery.
In Standoff, his character has some deep scars, and how he got those wounds is slowly revealed. Dale runs with the character’s flaws to make Gannon both a guy to fear and someone to trust.
He’s surrounded by equally strong actors including Chris Mulkey (Captain Phillips), Brian Geraghty (Chicago PD), Robert Aramayo (Game of Thrones), Patrick Fischler (Twin Peaks), Happy Anderson (The Knick) and Gene Jones (The Hateful Eight).
The best moments come when Gannon interrogates Keating (Aramayo), a young member of the militia who doesn’t speak. Once he opens up to Gannon, what starts as a brutal exercise in interview tactics becomes a battle of intellects. Written by Dunham, the verbal battles between the pair are crisp and smart.
While their battle of the barbs is a high point, every word services the story through the script. Dunham keeps the elements tight, never allowing his story to wander off into the political minefields that surround the themes of right versus wrong. The best part of the script is the ending is not telegraphed so early as to spoil the surprise and fun. At the same time, Dunham never cheats and throws in an arbitrary twist just to get to a suitable finale.
Capping this all off is the selection of a real warehouse to shoot the movie. Part of the lone location comes from budget constraints, but the massive size of some of the areas reflect the grand scale of the problems facing the group as they struggle to discover the truth. Then there are smaller settings that make it look like the world around the group is slowly collapsing.
Dunham’s use of light and dark plus the lack of music gives the production the kind of starkness that reflects how the world is often seen in black and white. Gray areas of the set represent that element of the real world.
All this comes together to make The Standoff at Sparrow Creek a production that grabs attention through a well-constructed script, keeps the focus through a strong cast and brings it all to a fascinating conclusion in a real-world location that often seems surreal. The only bad thing for Dunham is he’s set the bar high for his next production. – TNS
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