Mike Kendall (Small Town Crime)

Created by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms

Client: “You drunk?”
Mike: “I’m comfortable.”

Fresh off 2016’s entertaining little P.I. mind-fuck Too Late and a small but engaging role in 2017’s Oscar-contending Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes actor John Hawkes in yet another juicy performance, once again as a battered yet oddly compelling loser.

Small Town Crime follows the adventures of alcoholic MIKE KENDALL, a disgraced former cop turned half-assed private investigator who stumbles from one drink to another, obstensibly working cases. But don’t be fooled — he’s an almost total fuck-up; a full-on asshole, regularly pissed and regularly pissing off everyone who crosses his path, blithely careening around town in a souped-up old black Nova as battered as he is, without giving a good goddamn about whom he offends — or who he might kill.

And this is the hero? Really?

Yet somehow Hawke gives the role just enough humanity (or is it simply FTW charm?) to make us care about the pathetic SOB. And then, after another night on the town, he wakes to find himself parked in a field, where he discovers a brutally beaten woman. He rushes her to the hospital, but she doesn’t make it.

With dreams of redemption (and possibly being re-hired by the police) dancing in his head — he decides to stop drinking (as much) and solve the case. Not that it’s likely “with his record,” as a former colleague points out.

Or, as Teddy, one of his few remaining friends, tell hims, “Stop with the cop talk. You don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

The problem is that Mike’s not a very good detective, sober or not. Dressed in an ill-fitting black suit, sporting an unruly mop of dark hair that keeps falling over his bloodshot eyes and apparently making it up as he goes, he’s the antithesis of everything the well-dressed private detective ought to be, and he doesn’t care who knows it.

But try to look away from him, as he goes through his paces. Can’t be done.

Even when it turns out the woman was no angel — she was a junkie, a prostitue and a thief whose own family had given up on her years ago. The only one who seems to care is her grandfather, a control-freak asshole (played by the always dependable Robert Forster), who seems to take as a personal affront more than anything.

Forster and Hawke aren’t the only members of the cast who give top notch performances — also along for the ride are Octavia Spencer as Kelly, Mike’s (adopted) sister, Anthony Anderson as Teddy, her husband (and Mike’s best — or possibly only — friend) and Clifton Collins, Jr. as Mood, the dead girl’s pimp, who has his own reasons for helping Mike crack the case.

As plots go, it’s a little underwritten, but there’s a satisfyingly raw, retro 60s/70s vibe here; a head-on collision between the Coen Brothers and Quentin Tarrantino, and the acting and the jacked-up action sequences are good enough to cover up a multitude of thin spots. And the recurring use of “Good Times,” a woozy confessional ode to self-pity from Eric Burdon and the Animals which serves as a sort of musical leitmotif, brings it all home.

Not as good as it could have been, but way better than it should have been.


  • “Most mornings I’m about as worthless as a park bench in hell.”
    — Mike is not a morning guy


  • “Featuring too many compelling, well-written characters to count, and matched by great performances from pros like John Hawkes, Octavia Spencer, and Robert Forster, Small Town Crime… delivers great action scenes and showcases a wide array of memorable vehicles (the Nelms brothers are self-professed car nuts)…. a fantastic film that shoots right to the top of the list of must-see indie movies. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.”
    — Sean from assholeswatchingmovies.com
  • “Written and directed by the brother team of Eshom and Ian Nelms, ‘Small Town Crime’ sounds like the kind of movie at least one other brother team could conceivably make (but) the movie’s tone never quite gels; it’s too outlandish and cartoony to convince, but not so outlandish and cartoony that it takes off into a realm of over-the-top exhilaration. The score, by Chris Westlake, sounds rather like a tribute to Stephen J. Cannell, and there are times when you feel the filmmakers trying to wed Cannell’s unabashed cheesiness with a sardonicism that isn’t quite as cerebral as that of the Coen Brothers’. The grisly killings are a little too pleased with their mercilessness, too. “Small Town Crime” is brisk enough that it’s not torture to roll with its inconsistencies and feckless creative decisions, but Hawkes is the only thing that really holds it together. He deserves better.”
    — Glenn Kenny, rogerebert.com


  • SMALL TOWN CRIME | Buy the DVD | Buy the Blu-Ray | Watch it now!
    (2017, 6 Foot Films)
    Written & directed by Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms
    Starring John Hawke as MIKE KENDALL
    Also starring Robert Forster, Anthony Anderson, Octavia Spencer, Anthony Anderson, Clifton Collins, Jr.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith, with a big thank you to Chris Baldemor for the lead.

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