‘The Standoff at Sparrow Creek’ Mini-Review

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a small movie. I don't mean this derogatorily, just descriptively: it's short, at 88 minutes; it has a modestly sized cast at just seven guys (give or take a few extras), and it's rare that more than three of them are in the same room at any given time; it takes place almost entirely in a couple of rooms in a lumber warehouse, starkly light with overhead fluorescents and on-the-ground portable work lights; and odds are you'll see it on the small screen at home, given that it's streaming now.

So, sure, it's small. But it's also riveting, with a compelling cast and an intriguing story and a thriller's sensibility. For roughly one-hundredth the cost of a major blockbuster, writer/director Henry Dunham keeps you on the edge of your seat for the hour and a half you're with him and his militiamen.

James Badge Dale stars as Gannon, a cop-turned-militia-member. After a day of hunting deer, he hears gunfire in the distance—followed by explosions. News comes over the scanner that a police officer's funeral has been the target of a mass shooting, so Gannon hops in his truck and heads to the militia HQ with the rest of the guys. Once there, they all deny any knowledge of the killings, denials that hold less weight once they realize one of the group's AR-15s, modified for automatic fire, is missing.

What follows is, more or less, a whodunit. Gannon uses his skills as an interrogator to try and browbeat his fellow militiamen into confessing. None of the men in the organization have any love for the police; all of them are, conceivably suspects. The group's leader, Ford (Chris Mulkey), wants to pin it on literally anyone in order to head off an assault by the cops he is sure is coming.

The movie is an actor's showcase, the militia played by a number of "that guy, you know the one" types. Mulkey alone has 250 credits to his name. Patrick Fischler (Mullholland DriveMad Men) is perfect as the somewhat-squirelly tech guru who jury-rigs an advanced warning system designed to give them a heads up if the cops are coming; Gene Jones (No Country for Old MenThe Hateful Eight) nails a slow-to-anger, somewhat-crazy man on the run; Happy Anderson (Bright) embodies the big, brash man whose heft hides a weakness of spirit; and Robert Aramayo (Nocturnal AnimalsGame of Thrones) is chilling as a silent would-be school shooter.

The stark lighting employed by Dunham will be a solid test for the black levels of your home entertainment system; characters are often harshly lit with flood lights and halogens, throwing halves of faces into darkness and enveloping rooms in shadows. The inky blacks reflect the mood in the militia's warehouse, where tensions grow as the seemingly random funeral shooting appears tied to a larger insurrection against the police by survivalist types.

The Standoff at Sparrow Creek won't be for everyone. There are no comic book heroes or laser blasts or cloying comics. But it's perfectly suited for adults looking to kill an evening at home with cinematic art that no longer really has a place in cinemas.