Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Ten Best Films of 2016: #4

Dennis Hauck’s “Too Late” is the coolest movie to come down the pike in ages. It bleeds cool. It’s the kind of movie you groove on the first couple times you see it, but even then you know it’s gonna be part of your collection – part of your life – forever.

John Hawkes – he of the just-battered-enough face – stars as Mel Sampson, an L.A. private dick who, as the movie opens, hears from Dorothy (Crystal Reed), a young woman he spent one night with three years ago. He told her to call him if she was ever in trouble, and she is. She saw some photos she shouldn’t have – of the owner of the strip club where she dances – and fears for her life. Rightly, as it turns out. I’d do you a disservice to relate any more of the plot, which reveals itself over five single-shot scenes – each 22 minutes in length – that Hauck assembles out of chronological order. One takes place atop Radio Hill across from Dodger Stadium, another at a home in the Hollywood Hills, a third at the aforementioned strip club and a bar down the street, the next at a drive-in theater outside of town, and the last at the Beverly Hilton.

Putting them together – linking all the internal self-references – lends itself to repeated viewings. So does Hauck’s vision of L.A., which is as incisive as any in memory. He gets what makes L.A. unique: the number of different cities it is at once – demographically, geographically, culturally – and Angelenos’ unique ability to navigate those intersections. He’s also written un-self-consciously crackerjack dialogue for Hawkes and a varied cast of actresses (most notably Dichen Lachman). You sit up in your seat when you hear dialogue this sharp; it satisfies the soul.

Hauck insisted on shooting “Too Late” on 35mm film, necessarily limiting its box-office prospects. (After one screening, he joked that for the video release, he’d come to your home with a projection reel.) Besides the rebellious coolness of the choice, it gives the movie a classic look. It’s from 2016, but not of it.

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