The Standoff at Sparrow Creek (2019)

“Please. Man up. Save us some pain”

An efficient and sturdy bottled-noir that is locked and loaded with an impressive array of character actors who have just been waiting for the opportunity to get their hands on a showcase piece of material like this.

Writer/director Henry Dunham clearly enjoys snapping dialogue together, allowing his characters to have loaded, rhythmic conversations which rat-a-tat like hammer to nail in the echoey warehouse. This is Mamet territory rather than Tarantino, though the set-up will nevertheless have your brain jumping to everything from Reservoir Dogs to 12 Angry Men.

As talky as Standoff at Sparrow Creek can be, this is primarily a film scored by silence and cloaked with absolute darkness. As a suspense picture, it’s the sort where you could hear a pin drop. As a portrait of grizzled machismo, it is soaked in the kind of shadows favoured by Carpenter, Fincher and Eastwood. There’s enough mise-en-scene in the light to suggest an actual surrounding, but the engulfing blackness makes this feel akin to a piece of black box theatre at times. Luckily the dialogue and performances are so engaging that you ultimately don’t care if the surroundings are interesting or not but it does make the film far more visually expressionistic than it may have been were it lit more traditionally.

Sparrow Creek seems to be an exclusive world of men, but all of them feel like characters who know they’re amidst the set-up for a shoot-em-up, have probably been there many times before, but tonight would rather avoid it. They’re all dog tired, weighed down by their own masculinity and therein lies most of the pleasure in watching it all slowly unfold. So much of the film lives in the lines on all their faces. James Badge Dale is handed a long-overdue lead role and he’s the perfect figurehead to drive this particular ship through a dark sea of potential chaos. It maybe gets a little too twisty near the end, but Dunham’s impressive use of spartan genre mechanics is enough to sustain your attention throughout. A terrific debut.

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