Walter (Peter Stormare) is a quiet man, living the quiet life as the sheriff of a quiet town. And as they almost always are in movies, he's harboring a deep regret over a violent fight between himself and another resident named Steve (Stephen Eric McIntyre), likely over the affections of Rita (Jill Hennessy), once Walter's girlfriend, now Steve's. Walter has turned to faith to help fight off his anger, and things are going smoothly until a dead body turns up near the local lake, and it looks as if Steve may be the culprit.
Stormare plays Walter as if Walter feels he can keep all of his emotions in just by remaining still and quiet. Less regretful than ashamed, Walter's lip doesn't wobble when his brother and father are cold to him, but his heartbreak is palpable. Likewise, in one of the first scenes, Walter is baptized, but Walter's reaction is less like he feels cleansed and more like he's trying to convince himself. The fact that the town holds his big blow-up against him, and that his history with Steve and Rita threaten to ruin his investigation only adds to his spiral from reason to emotion.
Although Walter's emotional state is the driving force behind the picture, writer/director Ed Gass-Donnelly plays it too safe in refusing to turn the spotlight on anyone else. Obvious areas that could be expanded are the three characters who are closest to Walter: his girlfriend, Sam (Martha Plimpton); his partner, Jim (Aaron Poole); and, of course, Rita. Gass-Donnelly never shows us any of his relationship with Rita and what he lost when she left, which leaves his regret over losing her somewhat muted, and although we get glimpses into his relationships with Sam and Jim, they're only fleeting. A fight between Walter and Sam feels like the beginning of a thread that lacks an end, and scenes with Jim's family are too-brief peeks into the way he and his family deal with the crisis.
In the end, Gass-Donnelly finds a satisfying and original conclusion that feels right for Walter and the movie, but his reluctance to make the movie more than it is, even across his few characters, turns the success into a double or a powerful single rather than a home run. This is a film about how Walter's actions towards others affect him, but it needs more of how others affect Walter's actions.
The Video and Audio
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack fares a little better, boasting a good use of the surrounds when it comes to the film's various "white noise" backgrounds of streets and construction, and the loud, enthusiastic church music that plays in several scenes. No subtitles or captions are included.
Trailers for How to Be a Serial Killer, Winter of Frozen Dreams and Road to Nowhere play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Small Town Murder Songs is also included. You can also put the disc in a computer and download a song by Bruce Peninsula called "Steamroller."