It’s been 27 years since Reservoir Dogs wowed audiences with its visceral, claustrophobic tour-de-force set inside an isolated warehouse.
Now, imagine if the collection of bad men trying to survive their growing paranoia and avoid capture had been armed militia members instead of pop-culture spewing, Madonna-loving bank robbers.
Welcome to The Standoff at Sparrow Creek, the debut thriller from writer-director Henry Dunham.
Sparrow Creek benefits enormously from current events, which makes its riff on Reservoir Dogs all the more electrifying, at least for the first half of its scant runtime. As our country falls deeper into a marked division, it’s nearly impossible to miss news reports of extremist groups growing in numbers and popularity.
Dunham avoids giving his militia men any specific affiliation, and he doesn’t bother trying to shoehorn in any undesirable ideologies, such as white nationalism, because who would want to watch a movie about a bunch of racists trying their damnedest not to kill or be killed?
Instead, Dunham wisely focuses on one militia member, Gannon (James Badge Dale), a former undercover cop, who now lives in isolation, following a harrowing experience he endured while infiltrating a different extremist group.
Sparrow Creek opens strong with Gannon and six other militia members — including a teacher, a former Aryan Brotherhood member, a retired hunter and an introverted millennial — learning in quick succession that an armed gunman has executed dozens of cops near their stronghold, and then that coordinated attacks are happening across the country.
The local attack was carried out with an AR-15 and an IED. Guess whose stronghold is missing those exact items?
Their leader, Ford (Chris Mulkey), fearing an imminent assault by local officers on their bunker, orders Gannon to interrogate each of the men to determine who betrayed the group.
And that’s where Sparrow Creek shines. Dale is a solid actor, and he brings a quiet confidence to Gannon that allows viewers to relate with his plight. Yes, he’s in a militia, but he’s still a stand-up guy. The interrogation scenes crackle with crisp, tough-guy dialogue and creative camera work by Dunham.
To further complicate things, Gannon realizes that one militiaman, Noah (Brian Geraghty), is actually an undercover agent, which means he has to do everything possible to protect his identity.
Sadly, Sparrow Creek sputters in its third act. The titular standoff is okay, but its wholly undermined by a huge twist at the end, which comes off like a half-baked Orson Welles stunt instead of a satisfying surprise.
The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is timely and well-acted, but it’s noticeably missing a defining moment, a big fat "wow" reveal.
Reservoir Dogs gave us Michael Madsen sawing off an ear and Tim Roth’s dying confession to Harvey Keitel, whereas Sparrow Creek can only muster a handful of angry white guys raging against the dying of the alt-right.
John W. Allman has spent more than 25 years as a professional journalist and writer, but he’s loved movies his entire life. Good movies, awful movies, movies that are so gloriously bad you can’t help but champion them. Since 2009, he has cultivated a review column and now a website dedicated to the genre films that often get overlooked and interviews with cult cinema favorites like George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell and Dee Wallace. Contact him at bloodviolenceandbabes.com, on Facebook or on Twitter.