Howdy, film freaks! Writer/director Dennis Hauck’s debut feature-length film is a testament to the glory of cinema. Deliciously old school, Too Late was shot on 35mm and unfolds in five acts, each consisting of a single 20+ minute take. They are the longest 35mm Steadicam shots in movie history, and feature no hidden cuts or trickery. The film is now playing exclusively on 35mm and is a truly ambitious project, executed with great aplomb.
I saw Too Late last year at Fantastic Fest and was immediately smitten. Aside from its technical wizardry (which is impressive), this stylish, entertaining take on the detective genre is well-scripted and features a fine performance from John Hawkes. He plays Sampson, a Los Angeles-based private investigator working the case of a mysterious woman from his past. The five acts are presented non-chronologically and the viewer deciphers more of the mystery with each revealing fragment. It’s a seedy world full of strippers and goons speaking wittier-than-life dialogue. They feel like Raymond Chandler characters, but modern, making reference to things like The Wire and The Muppets. Hawkes is radiant and effectively human, with an easygoing lived-in charisma that allows for some surprisingly tender moments. The role was written for him and it’s difficult to imagine anyone else playing the part. The rest of the cast–Crystal Reed, Dichen Lachman, Robert Forster, Jeff Fahey, Rider Strong, Dash Mihokhas, Brett Jacobsen, Vail Bloom, Sydney Tamilia Poitier, and Natalie Zea–all have significantly less screen time, but the varied cast of characters still manage to feel nuanced and true.
When I interviewed Dennis Hauck last September, I asked him, “Why long takes?” He replied that he’d never done them and he wanted to challenge himself. “Why 35mm?” He said that it looks better. Can’t argue with that, the soft, semi-grainy images look amazing, whether they were shot outside in the Hollywood Hills or inside of a dark strip club. Click on the stills in this article for a closer look. While some folks plain don’t care whether a movie is shot on film, there’s a large group of people who not only appreciate the medium, but downright adore it. The only factory producing film stock belongs to Kodak, and in 2014 when its future was uncertain, proponents of the art form, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, and Christopher Nolan, successfully lobbied to keep film stock in production. The studios agreed to purchase undisclosed amounts of film in the following years. It’s a shame that it came to that. There’s something pure and natural in images created from light striking film, a unique look that can’t be replicated otherwise. There’s a certain charm associated with the inherent quirks of projecting it too, similar to listening to an old record or watching a VHS tape. QT went to great lengths in order to screen The Hateful Eight on 70mm. Most filmmakers don’t have that kind of pull. Its cool to see Dennis Hauck and cinematographer Bill Fernandez doing their thing in the indie world and successfully making the leap to 35mm feature after collaborating on two short films (Al’s Beef and Sunday Punch). I hope they continue in this format.
Speaking of QT, he’s the person Dennis Hauck and Too Late are most often likened to. Its an easy comparison to make because of their similarities–witty dialogue, pop culture references, and the use of non-linear structure–but Too Late feels like its own thing. Like a Tarantino flick, it has the DNA of a hundred other movies, but manages to be unique and develop its own flavor. Unlike QT, Hauck doesn’t
straight up jack directly homage other movies so blatantly. Too Late has shades of film noir and gumshoe detective flicks like The Long Goodbye, Harper, Chinatown, and The Big Sleep. There’s hints of Brian DePalma, Robert Altman, and Michael Antonioni. Parts of the first act gave me a Blow Up vibe and the third act finds Hawkes playing a guitar and crooning a moving tune like Once. Music is essential to the tone and the eclectic soundtrack mixes well with Robert Allaire’s original score–now available to pre-order on vinyl.
I really enjoyed watching this movie. All of the acts are solid, but the first and third are my favorites. The fifth is my least. The first for technical proficiency and the third for emotional impact. In the opening segment, the camerawork is the most obvious, employing deep focus lenses and covering a ridiculous amount of ground. There’s also a cool split screen moment. Once the movie gets going, the story takes hold and the long takes seem less apparent. They never feel gimmicky and it’s interesting that the film’s structure is somewhat dictated by the limits of the medium (each scene uses nearly an entire film reel). The third scene is magic–the pulsing heart of the film. The fifth act is the final, fitting piece of the puzzle. It isn’t bad, but I haven’t fully embraced the monologue. Still, a proper conclusion that left me satisfied.
Like they say, Too Late is a movie for people who love movies. Get out to the theater and support this film and 35mm! It feels like an anomaly in this day and age and if we don’t support these projects when they come along, we risk living in a future without them.
4.5 out of 5 Nerdskulls
Check out my interview with Dennis Hauck. We chatted about making Too Late, shooting on 35mm, his go-to karaoke song, and more, including the exclusive story of an on-set “miracle.”
Too Late is now playing exclusively on 35mm. Check here for a theater near you.
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