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this may sound like a bold claim, but henry dunhams the standoff at sparrow creek might have just made my generations version of 12 angry men.
like the 1957 film (dont @ me about the 1997 version), the vast majority of the story takes place in the same location, but this film works backward from where 12 angry men starts. instead of having a suspect ready to stand trial, all we know is that a lone gunman equipped with grenades, kevlar armor, and a full-automatic ar-15 has opened fire at the officers in attendance at a local police funeral...something our seven leads are all able to obtain through this lumber house they use to store their weaponry when the foreman isnt around to say something. which makes one of our seven leads the shooter.
well, who is it? thats where gannon (played by james badge dale) comes in. he used to be on the police force himself as an interrogator and is tasked with finding out which of the seven it is. however, theres a bit of a complication. gannon knows that one member, noah (played by brian geraghty), is a “uc”, or an undercover cop sent to infiltrate the militia and report back to his supervisor at the 47th precinct. although gannon is no longer an active member of the police force, his blue blood seeks to constantly protect noah from any harm, much of which is brought on by the militia leader, ford (played by chris mulkey), who feels suspicious of noah from the very moment he walks into the lumber house. so, in order to maintain noahs cover and his own conscience, gannon seeks to gather confessions from everyone else.
its this setup that allows the viewers brain to switch on rather than off in the tense conversations laid throughout, letting us follow gannons interrogation techniques as hammers into the members pasts. morris (played by happy anderson) just doesnt like cops and gannon hammers away to find the source of the anger. keating (played by robert aramayo), meanwhile is young and emotionally-reserved militia member who never speaks, leading gannon to more...aggressive tactics.
this never gets old, as you would expect it would, which is larger to mr. dunhams credit. each interrogation is different because every member is different. sparrow creek also reminds the viewer that this incident has deeper implications for the world around them. the stakes are constantly raised as beckmann (played by patrick fischler) hears report after report of similar attacks all around the country. the shooter sparked a revolution and sparrow creek is where it has to end.
david guglielmos casting work here is also worthy of a mention. every militia member plays off one another like they have this rich history and intimate knowledge of one another that it allows each member to grab the spotlight whenever the movie calls for it. james badge dale has come a long way from his generic bad guy days. here, hes practically a blank slate for us to look at and wonder what made him leave his former life behind. patrick fischler (whose main work before this was tv appearances and the occasional “hey, its that guy! cameo”) is intriguing as the aforementioned beckmann handles the radio communication, and is our window into the outside world.
the way dunham films this lumber house is straight out of a horror film of the 1980s. there are corners of darkness, an emptiness that lend an aura of gloom to what could otherwise be straight to vod movie that somebody would watch once when it comes to amazon prime video eventually.
all of these elements help hide the weaker elements of the standoff at sparrow creek. even though were dealing mostly with past events, dunham wants to have it both ways. he wants the story to feel false while at the same time grounding it in reality. unfortunately, that means we dont learn about why the militia was formed or what their ultimate goal is. are these people willing to kill cops to make sure that their voices are heard in a society they dont want any part of? if so, why is it a big deal to the militia whether or not police officers die? do they want a return to a leaner government? none of this expounded upon, which is likely intentional, but when you center the conflict on a crime a militia that owns ar-15s, grenades, kevlar vests, it starts to fall apart considering that would seem to be the whole point of arming of a private militia. we learn some things, but most of these questions are unanswered or vague. in spite of its faults, the standoff at sparrow creek makes for a highly notable directorial debut and offers some underrated actors their time to share the spotlight.
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