The great character actor John Hawkes does fine work as an alcoholic ex-cop trying to right his path

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John Hawkes plays a big time drunk in “Small Town Crime,” a twisty dark comic thriller with redemption on its mind.

Hawkes plays Mike Kendall, an alcoholic who needs a couple beers in the morning just to get straight. He’s an unemployed ex-cop who is used to getting thrown out of bars and waking up in the middle of a field several hundred yards from his vehicle. In flashback we learn more about the tragic circumstances that led to his dismissal from the force, and the demons that continue to haunt him.

Kendall is loyal to his adopted sister, Kelly (Octavia Spencer) and her husband (Anthony Anderson). When Kendall finds a dead body by the side of the road one morning, he inserts himself into a whodunnit that finds him teaming with the victim’s grandfather (Robert Forster) to take down the prostitution ring in which she was involved. Kendall sees the case as a way to atone for his sins, but he unwillingly puts his loved ones in danger when he gets in over his head.

“Small Town Crime” is written and directed by Eshom and Ian Nelms, a brother duo from the same central California setting as the film. What begins as a character study of Kendall (Hawkes, as usual, is excellent) morphs into a crime story that loses its way as it goes on, and its climactic shoot-em-up seems like a result of the story writing itself into a corner. But there are enough nice touches and details along the way — including Clifton Collins Jr. as an old school R&B-loving pimp — to make up for its shortcomings. “Small Town Crime” is best when working as a portrait of a flawed man; the crime part winds up getting in the way.

agraham@detroitnews.com

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‘Small Town Crime’

GRADE: B-

Rated R for strong violence, language and some sexual references

Running time: 96 minutes

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