This is a very stagey film – so stagey you’d think it was a play – that overcomes that limitation by being expertly made, even though it is Dunham’s first time directing a feature. (It’s a miraculous debut, in terms of Dunham’s ability to film and edit – I would sworn this was not a first feature.) The film is drawing comparisons to Mamet and Reservoir Dogs, the latter of which I feel compelled to address in my review, but it’s like neither in the ways that really matter.
As I said, this is a stagey movie – few characters, confined to a few rooms, stagey dialogue that characters wouldn’t say – or wouldn’t think of so quickly – in the real world. But the film is so well shot and the sound of the film is so great that my normal objection to a stagey film is washed away. (Normally I do not like films that look like plays.) I swear this guy must have been a director in another life, because he knows how to shoot, he knows how to light – natural lighting!!! – and he knows how to edit. (Or his team does.) It’s rather astounding.
The film is so well made that I want to overlook some fairly big realism issues, but I can’t quite.
SPOIILERS!!!! But I’ll try to keep them as mild as possible.
The problems for me lie in the film’s believability; there are two different instances in the film which I think beg credulity. The first is a flashback, the second is the reveal, both of which feel well beyond what real cops would ever dare do in the real world. I find both of these things to be problematic but I want to forgive them because most movies take these types of liberties with reality and I might completely if the film wasn’t so stagey.
Though the reveal is completely plausible given the situation in the film, I must say i didn’t love it. I don’t love “everything you know is wrong” reveals and I think this film would have been a greater film without such a plot twist.
But this is still a great debut film, showing great promise to the filmmaker who created such a believable world and great mood and tension despite how stagey the dialogue and staging is.
PS I want to address the “this is just the militia version of Reservoir Dogs” narrative that is dominating reviews of this movie. There are undoubtedly similarities to Reservoir Dogs because both films discuss events discussed off-screen. But guess what? Many, many plays are like this. It’s a device, you might say. And just because they both use the stage device doesn’t make the two films too similar. (Also, it’s worth noting that Reservoir Dogs was accused of stealing this whole conceit from other films when it came out. So now we’re doing it again, only with this movie.) To me, this film has as much in common with Agatha Christie as it does with Reservoir Dogs. You should note I haven’t seen Reservoir Dogs in a long time.