Created by Dennis Huack
“I need to change my life.”
— Mel Samson
MEL SAMSON is the hapless L.A. private eye centrepiece in Too Late, a twisted little bit of cinematic chess perpetrated by writer/director Dennis Hauck that plays with all your favourite P.I. and noir tropes (circa 2016) in all-new ways, thanks to a bit of artificial cinematic trickery that has absolutely no fucking business working so well — the film is broken into five 22-minute long takes (22 minutes is about the length of a roll of 35mm film), and then presented out of chronological order. The result is that the narrative bounces back and forth in time. Think of it as Tarrantino (or before that, Kubrick), but without (mostly) the glib detachment. So, yes, it’s a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that works, and exceedingly well. Days later, I’m still mulling over it’s dramatic intricasies.
Because, as cynical, aloof and hard-boiled as every one tries to be in this tawdry little tale of murder and revenge, there’s some real hurt lurking just under the surface here, and a palpable and haunting sense of loss and regret, as the screen fades to black. You watch this and if it doesn’t affect you, you might want to check your pulse.
Mel’s your typical P.I. burnout: too much booze, too many cigarettes, too few friends and too little in the manner of social skills, wrapped up in a brooding melancholy and a bruised idealism that’s barely functioning; bone-tired and heartsick.
The film starts out with Mel getting a call from a young stripper he met once, three years ago, who now needs his help, and before you can say “for old times’ sake,” he’s off, only to arrive — predictably — too late. And that’s how the first segment ends, with the title sequence running twenty-odd moments into the film. From there we skip ahead, and in subsequent parts we jump around from past to present, until the final segment which nails it all in place.
Along the way, we meet a charming psycho, assorted strippers with hearts of various substances, a couple of numbnut drug dealers, a shard of familial dysfunction that wouldn’t be out of place in a Ross Macdonald novel, and a seemingly never-ending trail of broken hearts. Hawkes’ portrayal of Samson is spot-on (and quite similar to the character he played in Small Town Crime the following year), but Vail Bloom’s stripper-turned-cut-rate-trophy wife breakdown is unforgettable. And the tropes aren’t only found in the narrative — serious fans will welcome the appearance of such familiar faces as Robert Forster (excellent as an aging strip club owner), Johanna Cassidy and Dash Mihok, and Rockford fans will get a kick out of seeing that Samson drives a vintage Trans Am.
- “Absurdly entertaining”
— The New York Times
- “Worth the wait. It’s got all the right pieces for a classic noir, but the deck is shuffled in a really smart way… Just don’t go in expecting a heist film or a shootout. This film is unlike anything I’ve seen in a while, if ever.”
–Ed Brubakerin Kill or Be Killed #2
- “I loved the scene where Robert Forster’s wife freaks out, too, but couldn’t they have put some pants on her? And gee, were there any women in this film who weren’t strippers?”
— Duke Seabrook
- TOO LATE | Watch it now
(2016, Vanishing Angle/Foe Killer Films)
Directed and written by Dennis Huack
Cinematography by Bill Fernandez
Starring John Hawkes as MEL SAMSON
Also starring Crystal Reed, Dichen Lachman, Robert Forster, Johanna Cassidy, Dash Mihok, Natalie Zea, Jeff Fahey, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Vail Bloom, Brett Jacobsen