de facto film reviews 3.5 stars

After hearing of a deadly shooting at a Police funeral nearby, a militia group barricades themselves in a warehouse when they suspect one of them is the shooter.

From writer/director Henry Dunham, in his directorial debut, “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” is the first great film of 2019. Very much in the style of claustrophobic, dialogue-driven thrillers like “Reservoir Dogs”, or “12 Angry Men”, “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” keeps the plot tense by keeping the focus small. From the moment our leads enter the warehouse, we know that’s where things are going to stay. Although the layout feels like that of a stage play, this is a very cinematic film.

Feeling like an early John Carpenter film, Dunham uses the location to its fullest; bringing out the characters isolation to build atmosphere. The film steadily builds suspense all the way to its stomach-knotting climax. This is a masterclass in building tension. Shot by DP, Jackson Hunt, the shot composition is quite exquisite. So much is said visually, that despite being a dialogue-heavy film, you could watch this on mute and still get a lot out of it.

Starring James Badge Dale, one of the most consistent and underrated actors working today, Dale gives his most compelling performance to date. Surrounding him is a wonderful array of veteran character actors. Patrick Fischler, Gene Jones, Brian Geraghty and Chris Mulkey are all actors that you may not know by name, but you’ve definitely seen them pop up in numerous films, making an impression in their respective roles. Here, each actor is given more than a fair share of moments to shine. The actors, mixing with Dunham’s excellent dialogue, feels Robert Altman-esque in execution.

Dunham’s script is smart not to show its hand too early. He gives you just enough clues and visual references to begin piecing bits of the plot together, but subverts expectations just enough to where the plot doesn’t get convoluted. Dunham also sneakily adds in commentary about our current crisis today involving mass shootings, but is never obvious in its approach.

I kept waiting for the film to make a wrong move and it never does. “The Standoff at Sparrow Creek” is a damn near perfectly crafted thriller that commands your complete attention.
It’s also the first film in years to take place close to my home town in Northern Michigan, which is always a plus.