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TIFF 2018: The Standoff At Sparrow Creek Is An Engrossing, Old School Crime Film

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Who’s Behind It

Henry Dunham makes his feature debut as a writer-director. This newcomer only has one previous credit on IMDb, the 2014 sci-fi short The Awareness.

Who’s In It

A group of male character actors, both familiar and unfamiliar, including Happy Anderson, Robert Aramayo, James Badge Dale, Patrick Fischler, Brian Geraghty, Gene Jones, and Chris Mulkey.

Who’ll Love It

Fans of mature, deliberately paced crime cinema. It’s no coincidence that the company behind S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 (XYZ Films) is also behind this film, as both share an appetite for methodical plotting and intricate criminal strategy, pulling us toward an outcome both shocking and inevitable.

What It’s About

After learning that a massive shooting has taken place, the members of a militia gather in a warehouse and, through some careful deduction, quickly realize that one of their own was responsible for the crime. Recognizing that the police are likely to reach the same conclusion, they attempt to mount their own urgent investigation so they can hand over the guilty party, rather than share his punishment.

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One member of the group is former cop Gannon (James Badge Dale), who spends much of the night interrogating his fellow militia members, Meanwhile, evidence starts to emerge that similar attacks have been taking place elsewhere in the United States. As the hours pass, Gannon’s interviews seem to complicate more than they clarify—until the shocking truth finally falls into place.

Why You Should See It

This refreshingly old-fashioned crime film keeps just about everything (music, locations, light) to a minimum in order to create a vision of claustrophobic, paranoid teamwork gone wrong. The influence of The Thing, Reservoir Dogs, and even Alien is hard to miss, but writer-director Henry Dunham distinguishes himself with a carefully researched grasp of his chosen topics including militia methodology, police procedure, and strategic interrogation. If anything, Dunham wears his homework a little too flagrantly on his sleeve, causing some of the film to play more like a research file than a fully formed dramatic narrative. But even if the film does get a little too comfortable in this narrow, somewhat repetitive comfort zone, there’s no denying that it’s a disciplined, engrossing genre debut that marks Dunham as a filmmaker to watch.

When You Can See It

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek screens as part of TIFF’s Midnight Madness program on September 12 at 11:59 p.m. (Ryerson Theatre), September 14 at 3:00 p.m. (Scotiabank Theatre), and September 16 at 4:15 p.m. (Scotiabank Theatre).