Small Town Murder Songs (Ed Gass-Donnelly, Canada)

Ed Gass-Donnelly’s Small Town Murder Songs is a quiet storm of a film.  A powerful and subdued modern gothic tale of crime and redemption set in a small Menonite town in Ontario, Canada.  Walter (Peter “We cut off your Johnson, Lebowski” Stormare) is the police chief with an unspecified violent past who just wants to redeem himself in the eyes of his family, the town and god.  When the body of a young woman is found on the outskirts of town Walter grabs this opportunity to prove he is a changed man by solving the case.

Small Town Murder Songs moves at a stately pace and is driven by Stormare’s incredibly subtle but emotionally complex performance.  The quiet intensity he brings to the film is bewitching and he captures the spirit of a man battling his demons in desperation to make amends for his past.  Jill Hennessy is also excellent as Walter’s ex and possible victim of Walter’s past transgressions.

Small Town Murder Songs has been somewhat lazily compared to the Coen Brothers but I think this film carries far more emotional weight than any of their films.  It has far more in common with the recent wave of rural dramas such as; Winter’s Bone, Shotgun Stories and That Evening Sun.  Films that attempt to show a more honest and realistic depiction of small town life without resorting to cheap and lazy stereotypes.  It is films like this that have produced some of the best work coming out of America in the last few years and whilst this film is resolutely Canadian it fits perfectly into this milieu and is among the finest films I have seen this year.

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