Why would you want to watch a movie as seedy at Too Late? The film is a noir-ish tale of a private detective investigating the murder of a young stripper amidst the clubs, condos, and drive-ins on the more disreputable side of Los Angeles. Too Late doesn’t pull any punches. It’s violent and sexually explicit and it enjoys the hell out of all of it and expects you to as well. It’s a nasty little film.
Well, you might want to watch it for its cinematography. Too Late was shot on 35mm film and is being projected exclusively on the medium as well. (In Denver, where I live, it’s playing at the Sie Film Center and opening this weekend.) The film grain, the scratches, and the little bits of dirt that are recorded on the film strip add to the griminess of the story, and the look of the image harkens back to the 70s neo-noirs the film is homaging. 35mm projection is increasingly rare these days, and it’s intriguing to see it used to thematic purpose and not just as a novelty.
Too Late also consists almost entirely of five 20+ minute, unbroken takes. A credit tag even stipulates that “there were no hidden cuts used in the making of this motion picture.” This could be a gimmick too, but these long takes also work for the film’s themes. They dispense with the temporal and geographic collapsing common to cinema. The continuous shots place the action of each of the five scene in “the now,” forcing the audience to be present with the characters or, in some cases, keeping us absent from them when they most need assistance. Presence is a rare commodity in this movie about missing girls, inattentive lovers, selfish parents, and a disillusioned detective. The continuous shots show us both the blessing of presence and the pain of separation all at once.
At least, that’s what Too Late’s long takes accomplish at their best. At their worst, they make it impossible for the filmmakers to capture clear audio, force some awkward framing on the film, and leave the actors little recourse as they do their best with stilted, self-aware dialogue. That last matter is the most obvious as you watch the movie. Even the great John Hawkes—who carries this movie—struggles in one key scene (though when there are only five scenes, I suppose they’re all key) to deliver this noir-ish dialogue convincingly. In moments, it works fine. In others, it does not work at all. I felt bad for Brett Jacobsen who is better than this, but he’s given the clumsiest dialogue in the whole movie.
Looking past the dialogue though, the film has its charms. Even with only five scenes without edits, the story is told asynchronously, and each out-of-order scene answers questions posed in the last scene and sparks new mysteries. The film holds your interest, and the final, narrative pay-off is satisfying as it clarifies and complicates everything you’ve seen before. Again, this narrative structure works thematically as well, as every moment is an opportunity to redeem the rest, or at least they would be if people were where they needed to be—temporary, geographically, morally—when they needed to be there instead of arriving too late.