Tonight: MIFF's Small Town Murder Songs at Regal Cinemas

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Peter Stormare turns in a subdued but outstanding performance as a small-town police chief with a shady past in director Ed Gass-Donnelly's Gothic character sketch Small Town Murder Songs.

You might remember Stormare as the nihilist with a ferret in The Big Lebowski ("We belief in no-zing, Lebowski!") or as Slippery Pete in an episode of Seinfeld ("Oh, you mean the holes!"). But you probably remember him best as a burnt-out psychopath who stuffs Steve Buscemi into a woodchipper in Fargo ("Where is Pancakes House?").

In Small Town, Stormare utilizes all his uneasy reflexive creepiness to full effect as the taciturn born-againer Walter, an Ontario Mennonite police chief investigating the brutal murder of a young woman in a farm town. Walter believes he's tied the murder to Steve, his ex-girlfriend's beau, an oily lowlife pickup-truck driver played by a smarmy Stephen Eric McIntyre.

The investigation is jeopardized when Walter's violent past clashes with his struggle to remain faithful to his religious calling, his hatred for Steve, and his buried obsession for his old flame. Meanwhile, his current diner waitress girlfriend, played wonderfully by Martha Plimpton, tries to keep Walter on the straight-and-narrow while inadvertently pushing him over the edge.

The film's bleak colors and winter setting give it a stark and desolate feel. And, as Walter seeks redemption, explosive gospel from Canadian indie-rock band Bruce Peninsula lends the story a Greek chorus of sorts.

Just 75 minutes, Small Town Murder Songs is a tad short, but it's a fantastic character study with superb performances and a crisply paced story. 4:30 p.m. March 6, at Regal Cinemas South Beach; 7:30 p.m. March 11, at Tower Theater (1508 SW Eighth St., Miami; 305-642-1264); and 9:30 p.m. March 13, at Bill Cosford Cinema.



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