One of the most frustrating parts of being a movie enthusiast is hearing about all of these exciting and fun movie festivals, and knowing that I probably can’t go to them. There are certain ones that are more public-friendly, and that you don’t have to be either part of the industry or a professional critic to attend, but they seem far and few between, and not exactly convenient. I mean, Telluride in Colorado is relatively close by to me, but it’s ridiculously expensive to be stay out there, and I just can’t swing that. So every now and then I hear about some movie that’s blowing up a festival, and I just get to feel jealous and know that I have to wait possibly a year for it to finally roll through my town. But sometimes things are trickier than that. Take Too Late for instance. This film showed up at some festivals in 2015, and seemed destined to stay there. Mainly because of the creator’s insistence that it stay that way. It was a weird, experimental noir that was shot on 35 mm, and only allowed to be played that way. I think it got a limited release in more fun cities than Denver, which is weird because we do have plenty of theaters that routinely play things in 35, but for the most part this weird art-noir was out of my grasp. Which seemed like a bummer. I typically heard mixed things about it, but the general consensus was that you needed to see it, regardless of what you ended up thinking of it.
But the movie gods have shined on us, and Too Late has escaped it’s anti-digital constraints and become available for people to digitally download. So I rented a copy and took a look. And yeah, I don’t know if I would say this was a good movie, but it was a fascinating one, and one that I would highly recommend people to check out. Now, before I dive into some plot details, let’s talk about the movie’s gimmick. Because that’s really the big draw of it. The film’s story is told over the course of five unbroken, single-take shots that basically become vignettes. The vignettes all tell the same story, but they’re out of order, lending a sort of Pulp Fiction feel to the story that keeps twists that wouldn’t really exist if it was told in order. And, yeah, I do typically find single-takes to be impressive, especially if there’s a lot of choreography going on, and if it actually was single-take, and not that cheating style that Birdman used.
And those vignettes told the story of a private eye named Sampson (John Hawkes) who is travelling around the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles, trying to find a woman named Dorothy. She calls him in the first vignette, saying that she’s in trouble, and when she hangs up with him, we see her killed by what appears to be a random psycho in a park outside the Hollywood hills. But as the vignettes start to unravel we see that things aren’t really what they seem. Dorothy was a stripper who only met Sampson one night, a year ago, but he made a big impression on her. He was nice to her, and one of the only people to treat her with kindness and civility. But now she’s dead, and Sampson is going to stop at nothing to find her killer, and kill him in return. And that brings him all across Los Angeles, until he finally figures out that the reason she was killed was because she saw photos of her boss at a strip-club having an affair, and he decided to kill her rather than have her squeal. So Sampson tracks down the owner of the strip club, has an insane afternoon with him, his enforcer, and his drugged out wife, that ends with him goading her into murdering the boss. But he’s still not done, because the man who actually did the murder wasn’t there, so Sampson is back on the trail, until he finally finds the man from the park at a drive-in movie theater/boxing ring where he runs into the man, has a confrontation, and is shot. Which is the sequential end of the film, but we get one last scene, which takes up back in time to learn that Dorothy wasn’t just some stripper that he treated nicely and gave his number in case she ever got into trouble. She was his illegitimate daughter. Which explains why he did everything he did, dying to avenge the death of his daughter. Paying her one last kindness.
Okay, so I’ll get right down to it. This wasn’t really that great of a movie. The structure seemed kind of needless, although I actually really liked the idea of the five vignettes. But having it be out of order didn’t really do much, other than keep that last twist that Dorothy was Sampson’s daughter secret. Which I don’t think was that necessary. But the real issue was that the plot was a tad hackneyed, and that the script seemed to think it was a little more clever than it was. Characters were constantly trading quips and clever saying, in a way that no humans really talk. Although I suppose noir humans do. But this was different from the way noir characters usually talk, it was a little more pop-culturey. Honestly, it was a little too Tarantinoesque. Which normally I like, but there was something about this movie that made it not jive well for me.
Despite those issues though, I would really recommend seeing the movie. It wasn’t great, but it was certainly interesting and entertaining. The script may have been a little all over the place, but the acting was really great. Pretty much everyone was believable and enjoyable, but the real standout was John Hawkes. I don’t think I’ve seen anything with that guy that I didn’t like, but he straight up killed it as a noir detective. I would love to see him do something more traditional in the same vein. The vignette structure isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever seen before, and I liked it. Plus, the single-takes were really impressive. They did some interesting and engaging thing with them, taking them beyond the simple kinds of scenes that directors normally use with this technique. There was some real skill on display in these scenes. And really, the more intriguing aspect of the movie that I found was the feeling that it gave me. It kind of felt like a dream you would have after reading way too much Raymond Chandler. The feeling was there, the characters were there, the dialogue was there, and the tropes were there, but there was just something off about it. Everyone just kind of floated through scenes, not really making a lot of sense. It was just the aftermath of mainlining too much noir. Which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. I love noir, and this film was a serviceable addition to that world. It may have relied too heavily on it’s gimmick, but it was fun while it lasted, and it was a gimmick that was interesting to see.
Too Late was written and directed by Dennis Hauck, 2015.
Categories: Reel Talk