It doesn’t take a degree from film school to perceive that Henry Dunham has been deeply influenced by Quentin Tarantino. His debut film, “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek,” obviously aims to be a twist on “Reservoir Dogs.” But while it tries hard, it comes up short.
Economically confined to a single warehouse setting, the picture concerns the members of a Michigan militia who are thrown into crisis when it’s reported that somewhat has shot up the funeral of a local cop, and they discover that an AR-15s is missing from their armory. The assumption is that one of them was the shooter, and unless they can identify the culprit and turn him in, they’re likely to find themselves under siege.
Luckily Gannon (James Badge Dale) is on hand. He’s an ex-cop with interrogation experience, and the militia leader Ford (Chris Mulkey) assigns him the task of questioning the men and finding the guilty party. Gannon takes on the task, much to the displeasure of his comrades, who are given no choice but to comply, often under threat of force.
As the interrogations continue, information is radioed in from other militia groups; they’re being raided by government forces. It seems inevitable that Ford’s men can expect an assault as well. By the end all is revealed—with some calculated surprises, of course.
There are two major problems with the picture. One is that, simply put, though the acting isn’t bad, the characters are not all that interesting. The second is that while Dunham must have put a great deal of effort into the writing, it simply lacks the color and richness that seems to come so easily to Tarantino. The interrogations inevitably invite monologues and revelations, but none of them have verbal pizzazz, and they certainly won’t stick in the memory.
One might also question the political implications of what’s going on during this dark, depressing night. There’s more than a little implied sympathy for this bunch of intense but arguably very misguided guys that might make you a bit queasy. Or perhaps you’ll be persuaded that their suspicions about the sinister intentions of those in authority aren’t all so farfetched after all.
However you choose to read the larger issues raised by Dunham’s plot, the fact is that he fails to give it much resonance, or to invest the interrogation sequences with much intensity. The picture basically lumbers on, never generating the sort of nerve-wracking quality that might have been created by sharper dialogue and characterization and crisper editing by Josh Ethier. Though adequately made, with decent cinematography by Jackson Hunt, “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” winds up feeling more a workmanlike exercise than an exciting thriller.