Netflix has been heralded with saving modern television with its copious amounts of original programming (most of which is actually great), but few people talk about how it’s also become a safe haven for smaller films. These independent productions might otherwise have wound up lost in the ever-expanding sea of VOD releases had they not been picked up by the red media giant. Luckily for us, E. L. Katz’s black comedy Small Crimes is one of these fortunate movies.
Based on the Dave Zeltserman novel of the same name, Small Crimes stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Joe Denton, a disgraced former cop fresh out of prison for an attempted murder. Joe’s futile attempts at returning to his old life are soon thwarted by his former partner, Lieutenant Pleasant, played by Gary Cole, who blackmails him into reverting to his old criminal ways. As Joe’s personal life continues to fall apart, he must avoid getting swallowed by the violent past he tried to leave behind.
These circumstances may sound dire, but the film is surprisingly hilarious in its execution of such a gloomy plot. This is mostly due to Nikolaj’s charismatic interpretation of what can only be described as a down-on-his-luck asshole, not to mention a clever script that usually knows when to not take itself too seriously. That being said, this dark brand of humor isn’t for everyone, and the movie’s tone can be considered a love it or hate it kind of situation.
The film’s supporting cast is also an incredibly entertaining bonus. From Gary Cole’s corrupt Lieutenant to Molly Parker’s lovable nurse Charlotte, this is a compelling town that feels alive. You really feel that Joe has a history with all these characters, making the consequences of his actions that much more severe. Ultimately, Nikolaj is still the star of the show, and the movie only works because we keep rooting for him despite his decidedly unpleasant demeanor.
Ironically enough, Small Crimes is a movie that is at its worst when going through the motions of a standard crime thriller. Many of these ideas have been executed better in the past, and nothing really stands out as particularly original. That’s not to say that this isn’t a fun ride, there’s just a certain lack of depth to the convoluted conspiracy behind Denton’s misadventures.
In the end, it’s the captivating protagonist and off-beat humor that make it worth accompanying this dark comedy to the bitter finale. Had the script focused more on these humorous elements without sacrificing the underlying human drama, this could have been a truly remarkable blend of crime thriller and comedy. As it stands, Small Crimes is still an entertaining romp through the oft-difficult but sometimes laughable life of a broken man.
Small Crimes is available now on Netflix!