The Standoff at Sparrow Creek

Gannon (James Badge Dale) is alone at his rural trailer when he becomes alarmed by the sound of gunfire in the distance. We learn he is an ex-cop and member of a militia group which he begins to contact in order to discuss the incident and its possible ramifications. By the time the eight men have gathered at the lumber warehouse where they store their arms, they've learned that a lone gunman walked out of the woods and opened fire on the funeral of a policeman with an AR-15, one of their AR-15s is missing and only one of the people present could have taken it in "The Standoff at Sparrow Creek."

Laura's Review: B

Writer/director Henry Dunham's twisty, dialogue heavy chamber play is a taut psychological thriller that upends our expectations, pulling the rug out from under us in its final moments. The cast is comprised of a strong mix of character actors, each of whom brings something different to the table. This small, virtually single-set film is lean and quick on its feet. The last to arrive is Noah (Brian Geraghty), who will come under suspicion quickly. Unbeknownst to all, though, is that he is both Gannon's brother and an undercover cop. Gannon is determined to protect him and begins one-on-one questioning in the facility's spare, brightly lit basement, tying Morris (Happy Anderson) to a chair, applying reverse psychology in a tale which plays with us in parallel. Everyone has a seeming alibi, like Hubbel (Gene Jones) and Morris's claim to have been hunting, yet none of their stories are airtight. As tensions rise, we learn of these men's legitimate grievances and there is more to their banding together to fight a government turned against them than former membership with the Aryan Nation would initially indicate. With Beckmann (Patrick Fischler) at the radio reporting similar incidents in other states, Ford (Chris Mulkey) questioning Gannon's authority and the mute youngest member, Keating (Robert Aramayo), surprising everyone by unleashing his philosophy, Hubbel suggest this is the day they have planned for. Then police arrive on the scene and it's lights out, armed men on either side of metal bay doors eerily illuminated by flashlight. Dunham's spare direction utilizes his drab setting to strong effect, accentuating frayed nerves with the low drone of ambient noise. A tossed off inventory - of bump stocks, Kevlar and explosives - is chilling when we realize that it is estimated that there are over 1,000 such groups active in the U.S. today containing far more members than the group at Sparrow Creek. But Dunham isn't interested in presenting either a right or left wing polemic, instead presenting something more character driven and more disturbing in its insidiousness. "The Standoff at Sparrow Creek" is a gritty little nail biter. Grade:

Robin's Review: B+

The Berkman siblings, teenaged Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and his younger brother Frank (Owen Kline), are about to see their happy family life fall apart. Their college professor father Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and fledgling but talented writer-mother Joan (Laura Linney) call a family meeting and announce their separation. Both parents want custody of the boys and decide that each will have them every other day. This proves to be a less than ideal situation as Walt and Frank take sides in the family breakup in “The Squid and the Whale.” Writer/director Noah Baumbach reprises his own childhood memories in his story about a slice of the life of the Berkman family. Bernard was a promising writer in his younger days but now, in his middle years, has failed to get anything published. Joan, always the diligent housewife for many years, tried her hand at writing and, to Bernard’s chagrin and her surprise, is a success. This causes a rift in their marriage as uber-intellectual Bernard resents Joan getting published and not him. When they decide to split and share custody of their kids there seems to be little concern for how it will affect Walt and Frank. The boys start to take sides and the drama begins. The Squid and the Whale” is a labor of love by its creator, Baumbach, which works beautifully on two fronts. It has a rock solid script with great dialogue and full-bodied characters. Better still, the film has a cast that is top-notch across the board. The story about a family falling apart is skillfully told and deals with things like professional and personal jealousy, mainly by Bernard, and the allegiances that form when a marriage breaks up. Things appear black and white as opinionated Bernard spouts his views on literature, art and movies. Walt, who looks up to his father, parrots these opinions as his own and it looks like the battle lines will be drawn with Bernard and Walt on one side and Joan and Frank on the other. But this isn’t black and white and the richness and attention to familial detail soon become apparent. This is one finely scripted flick. But, even a good script can fall flat if the actors fail to inhabit the characters. Fortunately, the four leads are equal to the task and all give sparkling performances. Jeff Daniels is brilliant as the self-centered, egotistical, intellectual snob, Bernard, and does an outstanding job in rounding out the man into a human being. Laura Linney, too, does a marvelous job as a woman who has lived in the shadows of her husband’s success but, now, enjoys having the spotlight. Jesse Eisenberg, who made such as splash opposite Campbell Scott in “Roger Dodger,” really shows his acting chops as Walt. This young thesp is a force to watch for in the future. Owen Kline, a fresh face for the big screen (although he does resemble the Culkin boys a bit and not his dad, Kevin Kline), does a marvelous job as a pre-teen who has trouble coping with his parents’ split. Even small supporting roles are fully realized – William Baldwin as Frank’s tennis teacher and Joan’s lover, Ivan, and Anna Paquin as Bernard’s foxy student/roommate, Lili, both stand out from the background. My only fault with “The Squid and the Whale” is a nitpick that poked me in the eye but the average viewer probably won’t notice or care about. The film takes place in the 1980’s and interior scenes and costumes fit the period. But, when the action hits the streets, the filmmakers fail miserably in keeping the new millennium out of the picture with obvious new model cars everywhere. Again, most won’t care and it does little to diminish my respect for the film, its creator, cast and crew.