Joe Denton, a disgraced former cop, is under the mistaken impression that he can go home after his 6 years in prison and start redeeming himself. The truth is, even his own mother is wary of him. He’s clean for about 20 minutes before his old life starts digging its claws back into him.
Denton’s (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) dirty ex-partner (Gary Cole) tells him new evidence could throw him back in prison, or worse, death row. So obviously he should cast aside his plans to live a better life, and to earn back the right to see his daughters, and murder the mob boss who could ruin everything for him. Just one problem. Well, okay, just three problems: a bitter D.A. (Michael Kinny), an unhinged war vet (Macon Blair), and the mob boss’s son (Pat Healy). It’s such a shoddily erected pyramid that the very least thing could cause it all to come crumbling down – and it must come down. Things are further complicated when Denton falls for the palliative nurse caring for the mob boss: fat chance he’s going to impress her with the mess he’s in.
Denton’s no anti-hero, he’s a piece of shit. Co-writers Evan Katz and Macon Blair reveal his soiled past so slowly that it’s hard to really understand what the stakes are, and there were just too many pieces of the puzzle for me to keep track of. The script is blacker than black, and as Denton’s dad tells him (and us), the guy’s a narcissist, which makes it morally impossible for us to root for him. Great performances by Jacki Weaver and Robert Forster as his parents make this thing watchable, but not exactly satisfying. The downward spiral is slow but relentless. There’s no hope, not even really any cynicism, just defeat. Denton’s a born loser. And maybe that’s Small Crimes’ fatal flaw: it follows the least interesting character. Follows him right down the dirty hole he digs for himself, deeper and deeper.