Hola all. Massawyrm here.
I know, I know. It’s been a while. Hard to believe it’s been almost five years since I hung up my hat and made my way from the world of content critique into that of its creation. And as well as that gig is going and as busy as I am, some nights I miss this. I miss you guys. I miss kicking up some mud and just talking about movies. I was feeling that way the other night, thinking that maybe *this* was the festival I’d come out of retirement briefly to write up some films for. I’ve thought that before, and it never happens. But when Harry playfully said “You know, Cargill, if you wrote something for the site and sent it in, I might consider putting it up. You know. Maybe.” When I told him I was thinking about doing just that, he smiled, nodded, and just said “Send ‘em in.”
From then on, it was simply about finding the perfect film that blew my skirt up and was well worth coming out of retirement for.
And that film is Dennis Hauck’s TOO LATE.
TOO LATE is a film that, on the surface, seems comprised entirely of gimmicks, both narrative and technical. It is a film told in five acts, each comprised of a single scene shot entirely in one take. These scenes are then told entirely out of order to create a narrative structure not at all unlike that of PULP FICTION, with characters dying only to return later in the film in substantive parts. And if that weren’t enough, the entire film is shot on 35mm, which is also, by the way, the only way the filmmakers will allow it to be presented. No digital projection or screeners for this one. If you want to see it, it has to be in a theater and it has to be on 35mm.
Usually films like this are all sizzle and no steak, putting their focus more into how cool a single take movie can be rather than remembering that there are a number of things the audience will expect beyond technical or narrative wizardry. Fortunately for TOO LATE, it has all of that in spades. TOO LATE is not a movie to see for its gimmicks. Without them, it would certainly be every bit as blisteringly cool as it is now. Those gimmicks aren’t the selling points. They’re just the window dressing that make an already peculiar film downright special.
The real selling points of this movie are John Hawkes and its clever writing. TOO LATE is 70s era crime noir ala Altman’s THE LONG GOODBYE with Hawkes in place of Elliot Gould, as told through the lens of 90’s indie cinema storytelling techniques. It’s a twisty-turny hardboiled detective story that opens with a rather unusual murder before becoming a combination of gritty, grimy revenge seeking and complex character study. Hawkes is Sampson, a burnt out, tough talking detective who manages to fall into bed with almost every woman he meets and has a knack for knowing where to find the right legs to break or palms to grease to get the information he needs. He talks like an old school dime novel detective, but is slowly revealed to be trying *really hard* to be talking like one. He’s a guy who wanted to grow up to be the kind of detective he read about in books, only to slowly realize what that pursuit has done to his life.
Hawkes is magnetic here, just cool as fuck. But as the movie winds on and we delve deeper and deeper into who he is, we see he’s not really the super hero he bills himself as, but rather is a broken mess of a man who has made nothing but bad choices. Now he’s trying to right the biggest wrongs of his life, only to find that in each and every scene he does so only when it is…wait for it…too late.
Backing up Hawkes in this crazy neonoir is a host of awesome supporting actors going full tilt into this strange and wonderful universe, including JUSTIFIED’s Natalie Zea, AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Dichen Lachman, Jeff Fahey, with Rider Strong and Dash Mihok as comic relief, and Robert fucking Forster as the big boss at the end of the tangled story. Every scene here bleeds pure, unadulterated cool and everyone brings their A game.
This is a film that looks distinctly 70s, but feels very much like a crime film of the mid-90s. As Tarantino as it is at moments, it is tempered by elements of both Wes and Paul Thomas Anderson, John August, and a heavy dose of Robert Altman. The story here is pure pulp, real dime store stuff. But beneath the slick, genre veneer lays a real beating heart and a heartbreaking tale that I cannot wait to see again.
Ordinarily I don’t see films more than once at a festival, choosing instead to see as many different movies as I can. But this is one of those rare times I had to make an exception and saw it twice, loving it even more the second time around. My reaction to this was pretty powerful – just pure elation. It felt to me exactly like the first time I watched PULP FICTION and BOOGIE NIGHTS and RUSHMORE. It is a wholly original thing made out of entirely familiar parts, woven together so expertly that you can’t tell exactly what it is until it has revealed the last of its secrets. It was not a film that connected with everyone – a handful of folks downright disliked it, feeling as passionate with their dismissal of it as many of us felt exalting it. But those of us with whom it did connect had giddy conversations for hours after the film, dissecting its various moments and putting together all the subtext.
It’s a wonderful film, the kind you thought no one made any more. And you need to find a way to see this as soon as you are humanly able. For me the hard question isn’t whether or not I will see a better film at Fantastic Fest this year, but whether I will see a better movie at all this year. I have mad love for this thing and can’t wait to talk to the rest of you about it.
Until next time folks, smoke ‘em if ya got em.