Review: Militia turns on itself in 'Standoff at Sparrow Creek'

'The Standoff at Sparrow Creek' marks the sharp debut from writer-director Henry Dunham

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
James Badge Dale in "The Standoff at Sparrow Creek."

The setting is a huge industrial warehouse somewhere in northern Michigan. The characters are a group of militia members, questioning who among them is to blame for a shooting at a police funeral. And these spare elements are utilized to maximum effect in "The Standoff at Sparrow Creek," the tense, taut debut feature from Birmingham-raised writer-director Henry Dunham.  

James Badge Dale leads a talented group of character actors as Gannon, an ex-cop who is interrogating his fellow militia members to find out who opened fire on a group of officers. Among the suspects are Chris Mulkey's Ford, the tough-talking leader of the group; Morris (Happy Anderson), a former Aryan Nation member; Hubbel (Gene Jones), a highwayman with a dark past; and Keating (Robert Aramayo), a mute.

Who would ever want to spend time with these people? It's a fair question, but Dunham's clever script gives the men layers without softening them or making them sympathetic. And Dunham keeps things moving at a steady pace, and is economical enough with his timing — and ours — to know when to wrap things up. 

"Sparrow Creek" unfolds like "Reservoir Dogs," with its sparse locale and group of men pointing fingers in the aftermath of a crime. Dunham uses the cavernous space to creatively stage scenes, although the setting is so physically dark that it is often difficult to make out what exactly is happening on screen.

There is a timely element to "Sparrow Creek" that speaks to our current moment and mood in this country, but the simple, effective nature of Dunham's sharp storytelling makes him a talent to watch going forward.


'The Standoff at Sparrow Creek'


Not rated: Language, violence

Running time: 88 minutes