The Standoff At Sparrow Creek (2019)

A pulse-thumping psychodramatic thriller with intricacy in mystery plot, detail in dusky shot construction, refined tonal solemnity, intense gun/mass-shooting subject analysis, & impeccable performances – despite a controversial ending. 8.7/10

Plot Synopsis :After a mass shooting at a police funeral, reclusive ex-cop Gannon finds himself unwittingly forced out of retirement when he realizes that the killer belongs to the same militia he joined after quitting the force. Understanding that the shooting could set off a chain reaction of copycat violence across the country, Gannon quarantines his fellow militiamen in the remote lumber mill they call their headquarters. There, he sets about a series of interrogations, intent on ferreting out the killer.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Review: The Standoff At Sparrow Creek. With a name as fiery and invoking of westerns, whodunits, and thrillers of lost ages, you’re sure to be in for a wild time at the cinema. Yet, what might have seemed like a gunsmoke-hazy shootout between cops and militias from all perceivable clues given is surprisingly misdirected in this smart, chess-like look inside their psyches wherein intellect over bullets is the star of the show. A pulse-thumping psychodramatic thriller with intricacy in mystery plot, detail in dusky shot construction, refined tonal solemnity, intense gun/mass-shooting subject analysis, & impeccable performances, The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is a masterful suspense study – despite a controversial and ill-advised ending choice.

Painstaking detail in shot construction. The film reads like a painting in its meticulous shots one can easily tell were extensively choreographed as surgically as the marksmen it uses as subjects. Muted colors, dusty back rooms, and asylum-ic interrogation rooms dot the grim, nihilistic landscape beautifully to meld with the dark tone and subject matter, adding auteristic flair the filmmakers should be immensely proud of. Even more impressive is the way the film switches between shots with impressive stylism down to every hypnotic pan, quick cut succession, and long shot for a hodgepodge of classically-based camerawork far ahead of its competition this year and perhaps deserving Best Cinematography awards come February of next year.

Refined tonal solemnity and a slew of strong performances. Mirroring these visual cues is a slew of absolutely SENSATIONAL performances, led by James Badge Dale’s screen-stealing Gannon. The way he rattles off interrogative questions, intimidates, and conscientiously runs through protocols before realizing nothing works here defies conventions as a sort of anchoring performance perfect for the role it’s difficult to possibly imagine someone doing better. His lead is only bolstered by his supportings, especially Brian Geraghty’s Noah and the biggest surprise by far and star-making performance: Robert Aramayo’s mute-turned-cum-laude Keating that stands as perhaps one of the best performances of the year. The characterization of each member of the militia as the film goes on sometimes exposing hardasses/rednecks as soft with human sides too is a pure showcase of white-knuckled advanced storytelling only further boosted in final product by its tonal grating perfect for a film about mass shootings: dark, brooding, and deserving of Biblical punishment (aided by the effective use of scarce lighting to feel thematically-apropos to the characters’ murkiness) as we try to learn who is responsible for carrying out such a ghastly deed.

The mystery arc and subject matter. The whodunit on display in The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is the most bingeable, addictive, unpredictable, captivating one I can remember in years in the genre as a feat that instantly catapulted it into my top ten films of this year. It feels positively-Tarantinoian invocative of Reservoir Dogs, 12 Angry Men, and Leone flicks all wrapped into one (admittedly ~derivative but nonetheless spectacular) package. The twisty tale becomes crazier at every possible turn through masterful use of every trick in the book of suspense from false confessions to moles to backstory-omissions before twisting most conventions on their head in the final reveal that certainly doesn’t lack points for innovation-attempt and shock value. The dark subject matter especially relevant to our times of mass shootings and gun control makes the film hit even harder, making for a platform to raise some *tremendously*-important psychological, sociological, and dutiful questions like “amplifying” unescapable loneliness, ease of attainment by the mentally-ill, and seeking of fame in an increasingly-invisible media age as potential motivators for some who carry out these types of dark deeds on humanity.

Flaws are pretty much singularly limited to one (massive) thing: the ending. I hate hate *hate* the ending. After such a captivatingly-crafted, sensational whodunit painstakingly weaved all in under an hour and a half for maximum impressiveness, I cannot possibly understand what ill-conceived notion led them to believe writing it out as a make-believe set up by crooked cops in order to exterminate *possible* future suspects was a good idea.. As someone with tremendous respect for the boys-in-blue and people risking their lives everyday to keep us safe, insinuating (many) cops could be so crooked, sadistic, unempathetic, and downright evil to carry out the harshest possible punishment in a death sentence BEFORE any actual crime was committed is shameful, foundationally-flawed, unAmerican, & disrespectful of magnitudinal proportions. Gosh.. why why why does such a brilliant, near-perfect film up to the final act have to end with easily one of the most controversial/ill-advised endings in modern film? Cops (+ anyone related) have every right to be wildly offended by it.

Overall, The Standoff At Sparrow Creek is one of the films of the year. Despite a breathtakingly ill-advised ending choice for a film about cops vs. militias, Dunham’s Hitchcockian suspense film has more than enough achievements to obscure its one flaw. A pulse-thumping psychodramatic thriller with intricacy in mystery plot, detail in dusky shot construction, refined tonal solemnity, intense gun/mass-shooting subject analysis, & slew of impeccable performances lift TSASC amongst my favorite modern thrillers and mystery flicks.

Official CLC Score: 8.7/10