A brain teaser that keeps you guessing until the end
Dennis Hauck’s debut feature Too Late stars John Hawkes as Samson, a private detective who receives a phone call from a distressed young woman named Dorothy. She asks him to meet her in the park, but by the time he gets there, she's gone.
The movie starts with a 20 minute single-take scene that follows Dorothy after she makes that call for help. We see everything that happens to her.
Each scene after that is another 20-minute story, shot entirely in one take. The film jumps around in time, forwards and backwards, and we watch see THE END before it’s over. I wasn’t confused by the puzzle because it’s an easy puzzle to put together. Even when I didn’t quite understand what’s going on, I enjoyed Too Late as a series of well-executed scenes. Like watching one cool short story after another. And the film takes its time to relax and breathe, which is a quality that I appreciate in any movie.
Instead of a convoluted plot that’s difficult to follow, the writer/director immediately puts the audience a few steps ahead. As the scenes progress, you wonder more about the characters and what they’re thinking and how they ended up where they are, rather than struggling to understand what’s happening in the ultimately unimportant plot.
The classic Noir trope of not knowing what the fuck is going on is the exact reason why a lot of people can’t stand movies like Chinatown, or The Long Goodbye, or the more recent Inherent Vice, which I loved, but if you asked me to explain the plot to you I couldn’t do it. Too Late is a different kind of detective story that thrives and succeeds in breaking up the chronological order of events. The director tells the story out of sequence, and in a full-circle Pulp Fiction kind of way. The actors do a great job with their characters and everything feels real for the most part. The dialogue is sharp and laced with humour. Hauck’s style is occasionally reminiscent of Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson, which he’s been criticized for, but when you think about it, he’s just stealing from directors who have stolen from other directors. Who cares? The script feels fresh and original and it’s better than most of the crap that’s out there right now.
It's not perfect, of course. Not everything clicks together perfectly. There are moments where I thought the movie fell flat and there were a few questionable choices made, but Too Late is Hauck’s first feature film and it's an impressive one. I’m excited to see what he does next.