“Too Late” is the feature film writing and directing debut of Ohio-born director Dennis Hauck. Starring John Hawkes (“The Sessions,” “Winter’s Bone”), “Too Late” is an incredibly ambitious drama that follows grizzled private investigator Sampson (Hawkes) as he attempts to piece together an investigation involving the death of a young woman. Even though the two of them only spent one night together, Sampson felt extremely close to this woman and explores night clubs, strip joints, and the luxury homes of prime suspects in an effort to discover how this young woman died.
What makes “Too Late” so unorthodox is that there are no cuts in the film. The film consists of several long, continuous shots. Shot on 35mm and presented in that format, “Too Late” is made up of five 22-minute segments that were shot in one take on a single 2000-foot 35mm film reel. The film utilizes continuous (and likely nightmarish) panning techniques which also involve zooming in and split screen to project moments in the film.
The film itself has this unique look to it that is typically very much its own. “Too Late” likely won’t remind you of another film since it basically creates its own atmosphere with its jigsaw-puzzle-pieced-together out of order storytelling and crime noir influenced atmosphere. In a way, the film seems to be inspired by other independent films that may fall into the same world created by films like “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang” and “Brick,” but “Too Late” develops one of a kind characters and concocts this unusual perspective of a realistic world seen through uncommon eyes.
John Hawkes is outstanding in the title role. Sampson is a smooth talker with these impeccable facial expressions that tell a story all on their own in between the cigarettes he inhales as if his life depended on it. Sampson is unphased by the violent nature of his job or the ugly world he continues to thrust himself into, but is shaken by the death of this girl that becomes an intriguing part of the storyline. Hawkes seems comfortable in haphazard skin and doing everything on the fly. He’s the type of actor who brings characters to life solely by signing on for the role because awkward quirks and unusual mannerisms seem so natural to the Minnesota native.
Dennis Hauck has filled the world Sampson occupies with intriguing side and supporting characters. Rider Strong (“Boy Meets World,” “Cabin Fever”) and Dash Mihok (“Gotham,” “Silver Linings Playbook”) portray drug dealers Matthew and Jesse respectively with Matthew catering towards satisfying his immense sexual appetite and Jesse feeling conflicted with the criminal and unethical aspects of his occupation. Robert Forster sits comfortably in the role of luxurious strip club owner Gordy Lyons while Vail Bloom not only bares herself for the world to see but exemplifies the frustration that comes with feeling trapped as Gordy’s wife Janet. Dichen Lachman has the most complex female performance in the film as Jill, the former flame of Sampson. Lachman struggles to portray emotion correctly at times, but the tension and history the character is supposed to have with Sampson is felt with an impact whenever Hawkes and Lachman share screen time together. This will also probably be the first time you’ve seen Sydney Tamiia Poitier since starring in Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 horror film “Death Proof.” Brett Jacobsen as the park ranger Fontaine is a peculiar yet mesmerizing performance. Fontaine has this eerie aura about him that puts you on edge, but it keeps the character’s motives unclear. His obsession with apples, movies, and watching Dorothy (Crystal Reed) urinate in the woods only adds another layer of unnerving mystery to the character.
Aside from the excellent performance by John Hawkes and the notably brilliant method in which “Too Late” is filmed, the independent drama also connects everything rather flawlessly. The segments in the film don’t play out in chronological order, but everything aligns by the time Sampson checks the visor in his car for the umpteenth time right before the end credits roll. The film has two minor issues that prevent “Too Late” from being an absolutely exceptional experience. The screenplay draws influence from old crime and noir films. The music associated with the film gives “Too Late” this western showdown kind of atmosphere with Sampson as The Man with No Name as he slides into a saloon and drowns himself in alcohol until the woman he seeks appears. The old fashioned dialogue seems out of place more often than it succeeds. “Too Late” is also a film without a resolution. The film leaves you with few questions as far as events occurred on screen go and entices you with this rogue’s gallery full of characters you want to see more of, but there’s no conclusion. “Too Late” just leaves you hanging in the air as you desperately claw out in an attempt to get some sort of closure.
“Too Late” is an impressive debut from Dennis Hauck with exquisite camera work, an engrossing story, and character development that is both entertaining and interesting. John Hawkes is immaculate as Sampson as “Too Late” effectively injects the viewer into a fictional reality that feels genuine and is the one place on earth where cigarette smoking sleuthing in a tattered Thunderbird is as cool as it gets.