Once Upon a Time in the Midwest (2013) – By Philip Smolen

Jim Lessin (Dave Gerjets) wants to be the mayor of a sleepy little Minnesota town. The town has been in the hands of the corrupt and powerful Boulder family for decades and Jim wants to break their icy grip of power. The problem is that Jim has a lot of his own baggage. He’s somehow survived a recent suicide attempt and has been involved in a bitter divorce. But Jim has joined forces with two other men who he thinks can help him win the election; Frank Faulk (Justin Hawkins) a down on his luck gambler and Trevis O’ Keefe (Will Farley) a vicious drug dealer and thug who wants revenge on the Boulder family. But as Jim, Frank and Trevis plot their strategy at a local watering hole, the Boulder family and their many accomplices decide not to wait until Election Day for the mayoral results. They plan to take out Jim, Frank and Trevis tonight.

“Once Upon a Time in the Midwest” is a modern noirish thriller from writer Justin Hawkins and director Matt Kowalski. It has a nice Quentin Tarintino/David Lynch feel as it scrapes at the surface of its main characters to reveal some of the rot that festers underneath their skin. Jim wants to be mayor, but he’s got a few corpses in his closet and Frank’s life is a mess so he grabs on to Jim’s coat tails in desperation. And Trevis is just one mean SOB who will kill anyone who stands in his way.

Unfortunately for me, the film is over plotted and confusing. There is so much back story that it takes away from the main plot. Kowalski and Hawkins include a 25 minute flashback just to fill you in on Frank and Trevis’s story. They’re supporting characters, they don’t need 25 minutes. Jim should be much more of the film’s main focus. Also, the main villains in the film, the Boulder family, aren’t introduced until the film is two thirds over. That’s a shame, because except for killing a few innocents, you really don’t get to see how evil they are.

The film is also let down by its ordinary cast. With the exception of Alia Mortensen, who’s exceptional as a corrupt police detective, and Sammi Jo Faulkner who gives a pitch perfect performance as Frank’s teenage daughter, the rest of the cast fails to convince.

It’s obvious that Hawkins and Kowalski have talent. To put together a complex film noir for an incredible $8000 is no small feat. The movie features some nice Minnesota location work and some crisp camera set ups. But for the film to come alive, it needed a streamlined script and sharp performances. “Once Upon a Time in the Midwest” is a decent calling card for Hawkins and Kowalski. I hope their next film will rise to the level of their ambitions.

To watch the trailer for “Once Upon a Time in the Midwest”, please go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3NBejawMU8

To purchase “Once Upon a Time in the Midwest”, please visit: https://www.createspace.com/387652