‘The Standoff at Sparrow Creek’

When will James Badge Dale be gifted a role worthy of his consistently-wasted talents, instead of being shackled by The Standoff at Sparrow Creek’s brand of rudimentary filmmaking?

This crime caper is basically another uninspired riff on Reservoir Dogs…or The Hateful Eight…or, as the title suggests, any classic western in a confined setting involving an antihero-renegade-outlaw grilling a path to the bottom of a problem; a militia of holed-up criminals in a dilapidated warehouse find out there’s an undercover cop in their ranks, igniting a testosterone-jostle jockeying for power, position, and the truth.

Unfortunately, the movie’s as vacant, and vacuous, as that warehouse. Quentin Tarantino’s clearly an inspiration for first-time writer/director Henry Dunham, but his reliance on plot-driven exposition — the screenplay’s an investigative procedural of a different color — leaves little room for character. He reaches for a stew of relentless dialogue, impending doom, and precisely-minute action that requires rhythmic editing to coil and explode, not Josh Ethier’s pedestrian cutting. And where are the stylistic flourishes that have all but become a trope of the genre?

Dunham finds some clever ways to make the most of his palpably-shoestring budget, but these bright spots are beset with inferior execution. The lighting is top-notch, and yet the shadows in Jackson Hunt’s digital cinematography lack the richness of depth — the cinematic texture — of images shot on film, an aesthetic sheen that’s also all but become a trope of the genre. The muted sound design, with no music and minimal effects, could’ve drummed up suspense through the foreboding emptiness of quiet…if it was complemented by other elements within the mis-en-scene.

The only material Dale’s been granted up to the snuff of his considerable skills was John Pollono’s play Small Engine Repair at off-Broadway’s MCC Theater; as always, it all starts on the page…

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