Decided to see this at the LA Film Fest for a chance at seeing John Hawkes in action. I was not familiar with writer/director Dennis Hauck but will keep an eye out for him in the future--I think he shows a lot of promise.
"Too Late" is an ambitious contemporary film noir in five non-sequential acts, each of which is shot in a single take. As far as directorial "tricks" go this is one of my favorites, and Haucks executes it very well, without sacrificing movement or dynamism in the scenes. One unexpected result is that you are aware of the camera more than in most films, especially where the varied lighting, extremely long zooms and tough focal situations really make you feel the mechanical limitations of the camera and 35mm film. Whether this is intentional or not it's a nice nod to what is becoming a dying format.
The plot itself is fairly well represented in the genre: a beautiful woman (self-referenced as a "stripper with a heart of gold") calls for help from a private eye (Hawkes) and is subsequently murdered. This film spares us the investigative aspect of the ensuing drama and instead focuses on the emotional response of the characters. The following acts show us the aftermath, fill out the backstory, and finally provide some closure by revealing a plot twist that, while not entirely unpredictable, reframes the entire film in a very fresh and interesting way. Kudos to Haucks for the excellent ending, which is a trick that many miss but goes a long way towards creating a positive feeling about the film.
The acting is generally excellent, led by Hawkes who fill the grizzled gumshoe role admirably. He's a very self-effacing actor who follows the "less is more" philosophy, and delivers his character convincingly even when it's clear the dialogue is getting a bit carried away. Also notable is Dichen Lachman, who has continued to up her game and is becoming an actor worth following.
If I have any complaint about the film it's that Haucks seems to be emulating Tarantino a bit too closely, especially in the writing department. I think it's a fine idea to do a Pulp Fiction-style take on the noir genre, but I could do with less of the long-winded, dense, occasionally incomprehensible dialogue that's packed with more external references than a Joyce novel. A few too many eye-roll-inducing lines take a bit of the shine of what is an otherwise very enjoyable film, but it is well worth seeing nonetheless.
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