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Small Town Murder Songs

Best known to most viewers as the kidnapper with the woodchipper in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, Peter Stormare is one of those supporting actors whose name in the opening credits always gives me hope that what I’m about to see won’t be totally worthless. (He was most recently seen as the theater director trying to make an actor out of Keanu Reeves in Henry’s Crime.) He demonstrates that he can be just as effective with a lead role in Small Town Murder Songs, an independently filmed Canadian production. A character study disguised as a police procedural, the film stars Stormare as Walter, police chief in a rural Ontario town of Mennonite history.

The corpse of a woman is found off a secluded highway, and clues point to the local hellraiser. But what should be a simple case becomes instead an investigation into Walter’s soul. Although he seems as meek and unassuming as you would expect from a character named “Walter,” he is struggling to put his past behind him, especially an incident that has alienated him from the community where he has lived all his life.

At barely 75 minutes, Small Town Murder Songs is a film content to work in small strokes, which may frustrate viewers who like to have all the details filled out. Given the characters and the story, writer-director Ed Gass-Donnelly almost certainly could have expanded his film without testing viewers patience. But Stormare gives an intense performance that is almost entirely inward, of a man struggling to repress his demons. His pain is counterpointed by a score of bizarrely aggressive alt-gospel songs (hence the title) that sound like something Nick Cave might have concocted with a kettledrum and a hastily assembled choir.

Small Town Murder Songs will be shown at the Screening Room in Amherst this Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, and next Friday and Sunday at 9:15pm.

m. faust

Watch the trailer for Small Town Murder Songs

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