The Standoff at Sparrow Creek begins deep in backwoods America. One night, as a man in a remote trailer home stands on his porch, the distant sound of automatic gunfire punctures the isolated silence. Soon, that man, Gannon (James Badge Dale), arrives at a warehouse where he is met by a number of men revealed to be his comrades in a local separatist militia. At first itching to fight back against whatever gunman shot up their town, the men pivot to fear when they learn that the shooter in question has been identified as the member of a militia who fired upon a cop’s funeral. Seeking to prevent a police crackdown on themselves, the group decides to hide their own weapons, only to discover that one of their modified AR-15s is missing. With no outside access to their guns, it stands to reason that one of the militia is responsible for the shooting, prompting an internal investigation to root out the killer.

The speed with which these trained, anti-society militia members decide to toss one of their own to the police to cover their asses opens the possibility of a wry black comedy about how quickly white separatists will retreat back to the comforts of the society they claim is against them. But that irony is nowhere to be found when the gang’s leader, Ford (Chris Mulkey), earnestly assigns the role of internal investigator to Gannon precisely because he used to be a cop. The others actually line up to be interrogated by Gannon, who swiftly slips back into his old role in scenes where he asks the other men basic questions like “What’s your favorite color?” or “How tall are you?” to establish their baseline emotional responses before moving on to harder questions about guilt.

Occasionally, anti-cop sentiment actually surfaces, but it serves only to heighten tension with Gannon himself, not to heighten the contradictions of these men’s belief systems. When Gannon questions a zip-tied Morris (Happy Anderson), for example, the subject turns to Morris’s justifiable hatred for police owing to a traumatic event committed by a cop who walked free. This opens an opportunity to double down on the militia’s sense of alienation from the establishment, but writer-director Henry Dunham merely uses this character insight to propel this single scene.

The film’s pleasures lie in watching a number of character actors make the most of their thin roles, bringing a mixture of weariness and hostility to their characters. Mulkey projects solemn authority as the militia leader, so calm and uncompromising that his decision to let an ex-cop question everyone brooks no real disagreement. Gene Jones, so memorable as the cult leader in The Sacrament, is gently sarcastic here, responding to Gannon’s question about his height that he’s 5’3” because the last time he measured himself was elementary school. Yet under his humor is a simmering, pure rage, one that sees the prospect of a cop massacre as a glorious moment of reckoning that they should be embracing, not rejecting. Dale manages to lead this cast as the dour, increasingly furious investigator, Gannon’s calm professionalism gradually spiraling into a desire to just see someone take the fall before they all get strung up.

The actors buoy a visually limited feature that is confined to a single space and makes poor use of it, bathing much of the warehouse where the men hide in deep shadow. Dunham naturally uses the same rooms repeatedly, but he never varies his sense of composition, never uses the space to emphasize the shifting dynamic between the increasingly paranoid men. And for such a simple conceit, the plot holes are evident from the start, telegraphing a twist that unnervingly validates some of the militia’s worldview. The Standoff at Sparrow Creek harks back to David Mamet in its focus on aggressive men locked in a cramped location, but the film lacks the visual acumen of those who mined similar territory more cinematically or even the impassioned brio of other play-like iterations of this format.

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