Film Review: “Too Late” is too clever for its own good

Director Dennis Hauck's debut feature stars John Hawkes as a private eye and uses long, unbroken shots to tell its neo-noir tale.

Film nerds just love long takes. They (we) obsess over them, make lists of them, and seek them out, whether they’re convoluted and balletic or potently still. Art house titans like Bela Tarr and Max Ophuls are masters, as are more mainstream talents like John Woo, David Fincher, and Alfred Hitchcock.

Long takes have gotten easier as cameras have gotten smaller, and as digital technology has allowed them to extend beyond the old limits of the ten-minute film reel. Achievements such as Alexander Sokurov’s one-take museum tour, “Russian Ark,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s faux-one-take Oscar winner “Birdman,” or the recent, ludicrous, first-person action flick “Hardcore Henry,” while impressive, aren’t as jaw-dropping as the opening eight minutes of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil.”

Which brings us to director Dennis Hauck’s “Too Late,” an ambitious technical experiment that succeeds as such even if its plot remains strictly pedestrian. In a move bound to please celluloid fetishists, Hauck shot this neo-noir thriller on 35mm film, as five unbroken 22-minute takes. Needless to say, it’s a hell of a lot more difficult to maneuver, and maintain focus with, a 35mm camera than it is with a GoPro, so Hauck certainly gets bonus points for level of difficulty.

Too Late-2

John Hawkes and Dichen Lachman in Dennis Hauck’s “Too Late.”

It’s too bad, though, that he didn’t devote a little more energy to perking up the story. The always watchable John Hawkes stars as a Los Angeles private eye who, in the opening scene, receives a phone call from a young woman in distress. This sends him on a chronologically chopped-up journey to a rooftop apartment, a seedy strip club, a hotel suite, and finally a drive-in theater.

Each segment, on its own, is impressive, but the ham-fisted dialogue and retrograde scenarios eventually start to grate. In one scene, a female character spends ten minutes or so pantsless, and you end up feeling discomforting sympathy for the actress forced to remain exposed the entire time. The other women in “Too Late” are just as two-dimensionally treated, and even Hawkes is left playing a generic cipher rather than a flesh-and-blood protagonist.

For all its clever references (yes, that’s “Carnival of Souls” playing at the drive-in) and choreographed complexity, the film never transcends its masturbatory thesis. Just because you can make a feature-length film from only five unbroken shots doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

(107 minutes, rated R, opens Friday, April 15, at the Hollywood Theatre. Hauck will be in attendance for the 6:45 pm show on Saturday, April 16) GRADE: C+

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