Film noir is about being a day late and a dollar short. Hence why the newly released Too Late is a classic noir set in modern-day L.A.
A dirty, but honorable, private eye with a predilection for strippers, Samson (John Hawkes), is inextricably connected to Dorothy (Crystal Reed), a stripper with a heart of gold, who winds up strangled to death in Elysian Park. From there, Samson’s Pontiac Trans Am takes him high into the Hollywood Hills where the plot thickens and the body count builds. Then: a strip club from a previous time, a drive-in 35mm theater and a hotel room where one truth too many are brought to light.
Too Late, written and directed by Dennis Hauck, is a very dark and dingy love letter to L.A. noir, sleazy exploitation films and non-linear storytelling. Broken up into five disjointed acts, Too Late utilizes, or disguises, each act as a single 22-minute take, one where the camera freely roams the scene before cutting to black and switching over. Much like a Tarantino film, there are no titles that distinguish the chronology of the acts, only the players involved, and their level of health, tip-off the audience as to where they are in the story. It is a useful trick, one that keeps viewers engaged in the puzzle box aspect of the plot unfolds.
However, the style that Hauck and cinematographer Bill Fernandez employ adds greatly to their story, yet the dialogue is so clunky and unconvincingly delivered, that the image is constantly undercut by a tin ear. Hauck doesn’t want his movie to feel like a classic noir — with bristling dialogue that seems out-of-place but just natural enough that it works — he wants it to be a classic noir. Yet, these line readings require a classical style, one none of the actors are comfortable with, and each line falls out of their mouth with a dull thud.
It doesn’t help that Too Late’s third and fourth acts drag on far too long, derailing the overall momentum of the plot. The fifth almost saves it, but it is too little too late, and the story within a story construct is a good one, but far too convoluted for Hawkes and his client (Natalie Zea) to pull off.
It is almost impossible to summarize the Too Late’s convoluted plot — virtually any information acts as a spoiler. When the audience learns is just as important as what they learn, and as such a recommendation of Too Late is a recommendation strictly of style.
Too Late was shot on 35mm and will only be screened in theaters capable of projecting 35mm. That alone puts it in rarefied air and in favorable hands. The audience that will work hard to seek out Too Late will be the same audience that will work hard to follow Too Late’s labyrinthine story. Lucky for them, there are enough meta-moments and allusions to a certain kind of cinema that this will be right up their alley, warts and all.