Since making the transition from his homeland Sweden, Peter Stormare has found himself restricted to supporting roles as various foreign oddballs in some of Hollywood’s biggest movies. With his performances often stealing the show, if your film needs a European psycho, then Stormare is your man. Many of us became acquainted with the actors work when he burst onto our screens as the psychotic kidnapper Gaear Grimsrud in the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, a roll in which he even managed to make Steve Buscemi appear a little less weird. Stormare then went on to play a crazy German in The Big Lebowski, a crazy Russian in Armageddon and a crazy American attacked by tiny dinosaurs in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. 15 years after Fargo, Stormare finally gets to sink his teeth into the role he so richly deserved, playing Walter, a troubled cop seeking redemption in Ed Gass-Donnelly’s Small Town Murder Songs.
With its biblical quotes, righteous soundtrack and scenes of baptism, Gass-Donnelly’s film could easily appear to be another tale of forgiveness and redemption. Yet one look into the eyes of Stormare’s Walter and you instantly know this isn’t the case! Behind those suffering eyes you see the truth, internally there is an ongoing battle between Walter’s morals and his instincts and one of them is going to have to lose. The tension builds throughout the film as we see Walter hurtling towards his breaking point and we’re left on tenterhooks as we expect him to explode at any minute. There are no action scenes, no car chases, no gunfights, but Small Town Murder Songs manages to keep you on the edge of your seat bellowing words of caution to Walter throughout its 75 minute duration. One minute you find yourself willing Walter towards the redemption he so desperately seeks, the next you’re urging him to unleash his fury on all who stand in his path.
Going head to head with Stormare to be the dominant force in Small Town Murder Songs is a powerful soundtrack from Canadian rock band Bruce Peninsula. Permeating the film at regular intervals the score is so strong (and also so loud) at times you feel as if you are watching a series of music videos linked together with scenes of small town life strewn in-between. Yet, despite the dominance of the soundtrack, it doesn’t distract from the film’s presence at all, instead the pitch perfect choice of music only adds to the themes and emotions running throughout Small Town Murder Songs.
Developing his style through a series of shorts (Sixty Seconds of Regret being his latest) and an earlier feature (This Beautiful City), Gass-Donnelly’s latest feature showcases the touch of a director becoming increasingly confident in what he creates. The engaging narrative unfolds at a well measured pace, whilst Brendan Steacy’s luminous cinematography leaps off the screen, making the small Ontario town seem eerily beautiful and the film’s action brutally dark. Where Small Town Murder Songs really suceeds though is in its fictional inhabitants of this Mennonite farming community. Whether you want to call it a character driven film or a character study, Gass-Donnelly’s shining talent seems to be in encouraging such vivid performances from his cast you truly begin to engage and react with the story being told.