The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is an artfully crafted mind game disguised as a thriller. The writer and director of the film, Henry Dunham, in his very fist feature, has crafted a somewhat Hitchcockian aesthetic. From the opening moments we hear of an attack by a gunman at a police funeral. This event brings together a ragtag band of misfits who make up the local militia. These men are basically the outcasts, men on the fringes of society who have a bone to pick with ‘the man’, or any other number of authoritative figure. The film has a small budget, but you would never know it. Cleverly written, the drama unfolds in a warehouse where the men slowly begin to realize that the gunman is one of them. With the subtle use of lighting, whether it be from headlights, flashlights, or a flood light on a timer, it is absolutely perfect.
The band a militia is played by every single guy you remember from that one film, in that one scene. The leader played by James Badge Dale, who is really bringing his best work here, begins to give orders to have a few men bound, who he suspects may be the killer. As the interrogations begin we start to get an understanding of who these men are and their backgrounds. Things start to get tense, as you can imagine, when the blame starts to get cast and the paranoia ramps up. The fellow members of the militia that really stand out here, Gene Jones, Brian Geraghty, and Robert Aramayo help bring this thriller the weight it needs. The story evolves out like a Mamet play, sprinkled with Agatha Christie, the paranoia of knowing there is a liar and trying to piece together who it may be.
The ever present themes of betrayal and retribution strewn throughout the film, whether its from an ex Klan member, an ex Cop, or ex Con, shows that no one is without motive. The tension ratchets up as the cops seem to be closing in on them, and the need for a confession becomes more and more valuable. With the men turning on each other and different character revelations, the motivations of each man is murky.
In the end we are treated to the standoff we were promised, beautifully photographed and bathed in light and smoke. As the men devolve and give in to their perceived reality, it becomes clear that not only have they created victims by past actions, but that this situation has turned them into victims. The same men who have been abused by society and banded together, have that used against them. A preemptive strike is revealed, and the moral conundrum begins. All together this is not breaking new ground, but it’s making the old ground look mighty good.