Thursday, April 21, 2016

'Too Late,' another LA neo-noir

John Hawkes breaks the mold as a Los Angeles private detective.

Dividing its story into five segments that unfold without regard to chronological order, the LA-based neo-noir Too Late boasts a technical feat that's worth mentioning: Each segment consists of one shot that runs for 20 minutes thanks to something called a Techniscope-format 35 mm reel. (Normal 35 mm reels accommodate 12 minutes of filming.)

Not only does the movie take on a cinematic challenge, but it also asks a lot from a cast led by John Hawkes, who plays Mel Sampson, a private investigator.

Hauck, who wrote the screenplay, challenges his actors with a ton of self-consciously written dialogue: I'm supposing that Hauck, who also wrote the screenplay, wanted to plunge us into a noir world where no one talks like they would in real life, but in 2016, the writing can seem awfully self-conscious.

Besides, we've been down these neo-noir back alleys too many times before, which is why I heard a kind of ironic (and unintended) echo in the movie's title. Given the movie's dense plotting, this could be a case of too much, too late.

The always intriguing Hawkes by no means delivers a formulaic performance as a detective who winds up encountering a variety of women after a shocking murder in the early going. At every turn, Hawkes breaks the mold.

Among the movie's women, Vail Bloom qualifies as the most exposed -- literally. She does much of her acting naked from the waist down. Dichen Lachman works the hard-boiled side of the street as Sampson's long-time love interest.

Hauck certainly has an eye for strange locations (a dreary drive-in theater that also boasts a boxing ring), and his convoluted, Tarantino-like structure slowly and sometimes improbably resolves itself.

But Too Late has difficulty getting beyond what appears to be a meta-narrative about characters trapped in the shadow of previous movies with nothing much at stake besides whether Hauck can make the pieces of his noir jigsaw finally fit neatly together.

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