Calling Dennis Hauck’s effort “Too Late” a film seems a little dishonest. I think exercise is a much better term for it. It’s something not so much concerned with telling a story or weaving a narrative with characters as it is with the manner in which it’s made; its central preoccupation is itself. It’s a little too self-reflexive, too postmodern, like a Paul Auster short story that should have stayed as a short story, or an early experiment by Godard (or, more accurately, a precocious Godardian acolyte).
It’s also a work deeply in love with cinema and film, and Hauck, in the making of this, has clearly thought long and hard about the capabilities (and limitations) of celluloid. The film is five shots long, each shot exactly one reel long (about twenty minutes). The reels don’t unfurl in the correct chronological order, not so much to maximise the emotional punch at the end with some kind of twist, but simply because Hauck has decided they can. They could be in literally any order, I think, except for the correct one.
It would be very easy to discuss this work entirely in terms of its technicalities, but that, I think, would be a cop-out. This is clearly something with a lot more on its mind than just letting a camera roll uninterrupted. What struck me about it is that it is both utterly unique, and completely derivative. No film has been made like this before, not really, and despite the Tarantino comparisons that have been made, I’d be generous in saying that it’s true to just the spirit of, say, Pulp Fiction.
The plot involves serial killers, drug pushers, an emotionally inward PI, and a Woman in Trouble, all in the first reel alone. The PI is investigating a murder, but since one of the reels occurs before the murder, and one seems to occur long after he’s stopped thinking about it, how much of it can be called an investigation movie?
All of the players are amateur actors, with the exception of the detective, who is played by John Hawkes, an actor of an uncertain intensity and gravitas. He stands apart from the others, by virtue of his experience. His character, named Samson (“and Delilah”, he quips), is one of only two who seem to undergo any real development, and the only one to undergo a big development. Without his work, this film would be unwatchable.
And I mean unwatchable; in places, this film is borderline shambolic, and a disaster. Actors flub cues, the camera misses beats, the dialogue rushes from on-the-nose to ponderous to laughably bizarre all in the space of one line. But I’m halfway torn between thinking that it’s just, like, the point, y’know? and thinking that maybe Hauck left them in to highlight the transient nature of film.
I know I’m standing at 45 degrees to this film, and looking at it wrong. It’s clearly intended as some kind of playful homage to hard-boiled detective fiction and noir, and walking out of the theatre, a part of me wanted to put on a black suit, a pair of sunglasses, and smoke a cigarette. In years gone by, Jean-Paul Belmondo would have been in it (and it would have been done better). But it’s self-aware to a fault, and I’m unable to discern how much of what Hauck portrays is sincere, or playfully knowing, or simply pulling our legs.
I halfway liked it. It looked good (35mm, even grainy and with a grindhouse feel, is a joyous thing). It held my attention, kept me guessing with its patchwork plot, and Hawkes is a domineering presence. It tickles a certain bone for those well-versed in crime films, and those accustomed/tolerant of postmodern whims will probably like it. But is it actually an good? No. It’s the worst-made good film I’ve seen. Or the best-made bad film I’ve seen. Or… You get it.
A note: I was lucky enough to see this film presented in 35mm at a small showing with a local film group called The Phoenix. Should anybody reading this find themselves in Southampton, check them out. They’re a friendly bunch who care about films, and it’s the only place locally where you can see works like this.