‘Murder Songs’ doesn’t deliver

LIZ BRAUN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

When it comes to Small Town Murder Songs, your attention will be on the last word. The soundtrack for this new Ed Gass-Donnelly film features songs from the band Bruce Peninsula and their music is totally arresting, to say the least.

In Small Town Murder Songs, a police chief struggles with his own demons while investigating the murder of a young woman. Walter (Peter Stormare) is a born-again Christian and a man with a violent past. The movie opens with his baptism by a local deacon; the setting is a small Mennonite town in Ontario, so a certain quiet calm hangs over the story. The rural landscape is generally peaceful.

It's all quite a contrast to the turmoil just below the surface.

A body is discovered near the lake. The dead woman has died a brutal death.

Walter's young police partner is sickened, and Walter tries to overcome his own feelings about being out of his depth with this case. As it happens, a detective (Ari Cohen) has come to help with the investigation.

Walter's former lover, Rita (Jill Hennessy) proves to be the anonymous local who called 911 when the dead girl was found. Her new boyfriend (Stephen Eric McIntyre) is the prime suspect in the case. For all the obvious reasons, Walter should be backing off the investigation, but when he tries to protect Rita he finds himself in very deep.

Walter feels isolated and misunderstood. He also feels judged by all, except for his pastor and his new girlfriend Sam (Martha Plimpton), a sweet-natured, loving woman. Walter is vaguely estranged from his family, mocked for his newfound Christianity by the local toughs and avoided by the Mennonites, who disapprove of anything to do with violence.

Small Town Murder Songs is a film about Walter's intense need to put his violent past behind him forever, and is divided into chapters by evangelical statements that seem to reflect his progress. Repent and Profess Your Faith, is the first statement, for example, and Live in the World, But Not of It, is another. Is it all meant to be ironic? You don't know until the movie's end.

Actor Peter Stormare, who has worked with the Coen Brothers, calls Small Town Murder Songs a kind of a 'strange cousin' to the film Fargo. You can see what he means, in terms of atmosphere and dark menace in a peaceful landscape, but for all that Small Town Murder Songs hints at, there isn't enough delivery here.

You can't miss the potential, though. Ed Gass-Donnelly has been named to Variety magazine's 10 Directors to Watch list for 2011.

The late Canadian actress Jackie Burroughs has a cameo in Small Town Murder Songs. It is her last performance.

(This film is rated 14A)


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