Review

'Too Late' a bold take on detective genre

That the neo-noirish mystery "Too Late" was shot on 35mm film and is showing only in that once-ubiquitous format makes it something of a cinematic event in these hyper-digital times. But its unique technical and structural aspects — it unfolds in a series of five 20-minute uncut takes — prove only a part of this enjoyable movie's appeal.

First-time feature writer-director Dennis Hauck has crafted a strangely involving, idiosyncratic masterwork that echoes the style of such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino, Robert Altman and even "Welcome to L.A.'s" Alan Rudolph (who gets a passing shout-out here), while amusingly honoring classic detective movie tropes. The winks and nods come fast and furious, so an acquaintance with film history and gumshoe fiction helps maximize the fun.

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John Hawkes nimbly embodies hard-boiled, world-weary Mel Sampson, a Los Angeles private eye on the case of the missing Dorothy (Crystal Reed), a pretty young stripper from his past. Sampson's blood-and-booze-soaked search takes him — in nonlinear order — to Elysian Park's Radio Hill, a showy Hollywood Hills home, a West Adams strip club and music cafe, an unusual drive-in theater (shot at an actual Barstow venue) and the Beverly Hilton. Pay close attention: Though chronology shifts, each segment is intriguingly linked by many narrative references and puzzle pieces.

En route, Sampson encounters a rogues' gallery of L.A. denizens including a movie-loving park ranger (Brett Jacobsen); a sketchy drug-dealing duo (Dash Mihok, Rider Strong); a fat-cat strip club owner (Robert Forster) and his desperate trophy wife (Vail Bloom); a surly mixed-race stripper (Dichen Lachman) and a genial folk singer (Sally Jaye, as herself).

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But it's Dorothy's mother (Natalie Zea) and grandmother (Joanna Cassidy) who provide the story's deepest, most authentic emotional beats. Hauck wisely positions their segment last — though it places second chronologically — which gives the story a revelatory punch.

Dialogue, design, music and allusions evoke a mix of eras and vibes to mostly engaging effect. Hauck, with a strong assist from Bill Fernandez's clever, well-modulated Techniscope lensing, impressively choreographs the movie's continuous takes with a nice balance of intimacy and breadth. Hauck's a talent to watch.

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'Too Late'

No rating

Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes

Playing: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood

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