Directed by: Henry Dunham
Premise: Members of a militia group gather at their headquarters following news of a mass shooting at a police funeral. Realizing that the shooter must be one of them, the militia members interrogate each other to identify the shooter and stave off future bloodshed.
What Works: The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is an effective thriller in the mold of movies like 12 Angry Men and Reservoir Dogs. The story takes place in a single evening and most of the action is contained in and around a warehouse where a group of militiamen try to determine who among them is a mass shooter. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is at once lean while offering substance and depth. The film runs a brisk eighty-eight minutes but in that time the film takes its characters through a circuitous mystery and reveals complicated relationships between the men. The film has a great cast. Although most of the characters are grizzled middle-aged white men, everyone is distinct. That’s partly owed to the actors who provide nuanced characterizations but also to the script. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is an excellent example of characterization through dialogue; the way these men speak tells us who they are and how they relate to one another. This picture is also a very good example of low budget filmmaking turning its limitations into advantages. The movie uses sparse lighting in a way that gives the drab interiors dramatic atmosphere and the production values are honed down to make the film quite visceral. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a smart and tense story whose mystery unfolds deliberately. Revelations come at the right moment, often just as the whodunit seems to be solved, and undermine everything the characters thought they knew. And the success of the mystery helps the film in its ideological aims. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a political film and like the best ideologically-motivated dramas, the filmmakers make their point without getting didactic. The filmmakers never lose sight of their mandate to entertain and tell a compelling mystery and the film’s message emerges organically out of the story.
What Doesn’t: There is a larger context to The Standoff at Sparrow Creek that viewers may or may not grasp depending upon their political awareness. The story is predicated upon the distrust of authority that is central to the culture of the militia movement. This point of view isn’t spelled out in the movie—it’s just inferred—but that suspicion of authority and especially of law enforcement informs the way the characters behave and why they make the choices that they do. Audiences who are unfamiliar with the militia mindset may by confused by The Standoff at Sparrow Creek. The movie tells a gripping story but the ending isn’t quite satisfying enough. It’s not a bad ending but the conclusion isn’t as good as the material preceding it.
DVD extras: Featurette.
Bottom Line: The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a vivid portrait of paranoia. The movie succeeds in virtually every way. It has terrific performances, a smart story, stellar filmmaking craft, and a few intelligent ideas. This is independent low budget filmmaking at its finest.
Episode: #758 (July 21, 2019)