Small Crimes recently released on Netflix at the end of April and is the next in the seemingly endless stream of independent or miniature films to be featured on the streaming service. Unlike some of the drivel that often comes with these second chance or low budget films being made and provided on the closed circuit, Small Crimes is actually a pretty competent story as well as darkly comedic satire on turning your life around after a series of unfortunate events.
Based upon the first book in a trilogy of novels written by Dave Zeltserman, Small Crimes sees its main protagonist- Joe Denton (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) released from prison following a short term stay for attempted murder and drug abuse. Each novel in the trilogy focuses on a more or less “bad” person who has recently been released from prison and the effects this has on their prospects as well as how well (or poorly) they manage to escape their past mistakes. In Joe’s case, things get pretty grim from the outset.
Something that sort of surprised me throughout the hour and a half film was how well it manages to handle some complicated ideas and simplify things down to human nature and emotional attachment. There are a lot of ideas juggled by the film but more or less it focuses on a handful and comes out better for it- no complicated plot twists here so much as there are ironic turns of events. Coster-Waldau is easily the highlight of the film as he brings the dirty cop and hitman vibe with equal measures narcissism and grit. Robert Forster, Gary Cole, and Molly Parker also play their respective roles quite well- Forster as Joe’s father, Cole as his former partner and another cop on the take, and Parker as a love interest and nurse.
The thing that Small Crimes does the best is get the job done, quite unlike Joe Denton in many ways. It isn’t immediately apparent that it carries almost a darkly comedic and satirical vibe although there are some instances where things take a dramatic turn for the worse in the most ironic way imaginable. It’s almost like there’s some sense of ex machina except every situation takes a turn for the worse rather than ever getting any better. It is very much a film about a man trying to redeem himself and despite everything being dragged back to his old ways and old world.
Although it has a relatively short run-time, one of the best things about Small Crimes is how well it wraps up and how cleanly it does so after a messy final act that quite literally butchers the majority of the main cast. What at first began as a film that hints at the violent nature of Joe’s world soon becomes a showcase of the reality of cause and effect as well as choice and consequence. What begins as a simple hit on a former mob boss who plans to spill the beans to the local district attorney quickly devolves into an all-out war that rages throughout the small town setting. Nobody is safe, not even Jaime Lannister.
On one hand, the film may not seem altogether too deep and it has been criticized for some of its simplicity and lack of complex motives or meaning. However, if you really look closely you will see there are so many intricate dynamics between the characters and Coster-Waldau predominately embodies this in his performance which really makes you feel as if he knows his fellow actors as intimately as his character does. There is a particularly ironic and tragic bit in the very end where Coster-Waldau gives so much weight to everything that has happened and the scene is veritably dripping with emotion despite him only giving a meaningful glance to his father and wiping a knife clean of prints.
Small Crimes isn’t a simple film by any means but a lot of what it does best is create simple complexities rather than needlessly confusing plot points and obscure references. It is concise and to the point which the story definitely benefits from and it has some interesting and colorful characters that range from extreme to deranged depending on the given situation. There aren’t many unnecessary revelations but the level to which pretty much all of its events tie-in and come together almost reminds me of Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and the masterful way that it tied together seemingly unique stories.
Small Crimes is by no means perfect but in my mind it is one of the better offerings we’ve seen come straight to Netflix lately and if you’re a fan of darkly humorous and ironic films, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll enjoy this one as well. Think of it as somewhere between a gritty crime film and a typical Coen Brothers production- not quite one extreme or the other, but more a commentary on redemption than anything else.