Look, I’m fully aware of the dangers of hyperbole at a film festival. It’s a guarantee that if you go to one, you’re going to see something that will thoroughly knock you on your ass. It’s just math - the enthusiasm of the crowd, the excitement of perhaps being in the same room with the actors and the filmmakers, and it’s a palpable need to want to talk about a film that you enjoyed, with others at the festival, and then, perhaps, with the world, if you have that opportunity. I’m absolutely guilty of it myself, although I stand by my reactions. When a movie gives me joy, I want to share it with everyone. Movies are as integral to me as breathing, and I want everyone to feel how I feel. Happiness. Joy. The thrill of celebrating the new, and, yeah, a bit of an ego as well – that, when someone comes up to you later and says, “Thank you for recommending that,” that there’s a little bit of satisfaction. That’s all part of it. So, yeah, you should probably be a little wary of unbridled enthusiasm for a movie at a festival. Not wary enough to close yourself off, but willing to judge for yourself.
So when I say that Dennis Hauck’s TOO LATE is the absolute best movie I’ve seen at Fantastic Fest, ever, and the best film I’ve seen this year, it’s okay to be skeptical. A little. You should see it for yourself, absolutely – I wouldn’t want it any other way. But… fuck me running, I can’t take it back, because it’s how I genuinely feel. TOO LATE feels like when I sat in a darkened church and saw PULP FICTION for the first time. Or that time I saw THE MATRIX. Or THERE WILL BE BLOOD. It’s in my marrow, and my soul is leaping for joy in my chest – that I saw this film, and that I was there, when great cinema got its hooks into me and shook me wildly. It’s what I live for, my drug of choice, and I can’t take it back. I don’t normally like to write reviews right after I walk out of a movie; I like to sleep on it, let it gel in my head, and I think I can come at a movie like that with a more reasoned approach. But not TOO LATE. Not this one.
The energy of Dennis Hauck’s first film is infectious. On the surface, it’s a neo-noir on the gritty streets of Los Angeles, but underneath is a heart that beats pure cinema – cinema so alive that you feel younger watching it. Robert Altman, John Cassavetes, Scorsese and Coppola, even Tarantino – it’s all in there, but it doesn’t interfere with the ride at all. It’s not clever for its own sake – if you want to find all those great movies in there, that’s part of the fun, but they aren’t distractions to the story. Private investigator Sampson (the incredible, amazing John Hawkes) gets a phone call for help from Dorothy (Crystal Reed), a woman that he hasn’t heard from in years, but when he arrives, she has been brutally murdered. As TOO LATE shifts in time, we learn the nature of Sampson, why he will never stop looking for her killer, and how every relationship he has in the movie is affected by her death. But TOO LATE is also about how we as an audience process story, and even the characters inside the movie seem to know that they are on cinematic rails, destined to their fates.
There’s an ephemeral nature to time in TOO LATE – while not in chronological order, much like Quentin Tarantino’s films, it’s not a gimmick. There is a power and a resonance to each moment, accentuated by the fact that there are only 6 or 7 edits in the entire film. That’s not a gimmick either – TOO LATE - shot in 35mm and not digitally, feels like a relic from a bygone era, when filmmakers laid it on the line for their shots and didn’t have the convenience of digital editing or camerawork. The cinematography by Bill Fernandez is sumptuous – sanguine shots that build in intensity and power. Hauck’s screenplay channels the greats – Wilder, the Coens, Preston Sturges – but it feels new and pulses with energy and wit. Hauck isn’t simply standing on the shoulders of giants – he’s marking his own ground, and it’s incredible to me that this is his first feature film. TOO LATE is full of singular performances from the likes of Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey, Crystal Reed, Rider Strong - but Hawkes gives the performance of his career here, playing things close to the vest, but revealing the devastation, need, and passion underneath. It's the kind of performance that goes down into the history books.
Now for the frustrating part – I don’t know when you’ll get to see this film. The film projected at Fantastic Fest in 35mm, and the filmmakers are adamant that it be seen that way, and not digitally. Before everyone gets up in arms, or calls it a silly affectation, know that film, and 35mm in particular, actually plays a thematic role to TOO LATE. A film like Scorsese’s HUGO should really only be seen in 3D, for example – Scorsese makes the case with his movie that, thematically, the power of HUGO lies very much in the way audiences take it in. Same with Tarantino and HATEFUL EIGHT – it’s probably a film that I’ll want to see first in 70mm the way he intended. Hauck and his producers don’t have the pull of a Scorsese or a Tarantino, but they simply don’t want audiences to see TOO LATE any other way, which may make it inconvenient for audiences, but to me is a bold step and I admire the integrity of the filmmakers to stick to their guns on it. You’ll likely see the film down the road on iTunes, or Blu-Ray, but great cinema deserves to be seen at the movies.
It’s what we film fans live for – to commune in that church, and see magic happen in front of our eyes. I want you to see TOO LATE so badly – I want to give you this gift of cinema, to hand it to you and watch you bask in the glow. Again, I’m fully aware that I might be overselling it – spoiling it, setting expectations too high. But when you fall in love with something or someone, you want everyone to know about it as soon as possible. You want to shout it from the mountain. TOO LATE is the whole reason I see movies. Movies are my religion, and tonight, I just had my Damascus.