Think Reservoir Dogs meets Memento meets Fargo and you won’t be too far off Shimmer Lake, since it contains the bungled heist, dark and folksy humour, and bloody deaths of two, plus the reverse time signature and twists of the other, albeit without the celebrity or iconic status of any of the above.
Derivative maybe but for a police procedural-cum-crime movie Oren Uziel’s minimal but beautifully formed Shimmer Lake wins friends and influences people (albeit sniffily by some critics) by virtue of being likeable throughout – and that is certainly not true of all formulaic rural crime movies, which probably run into the millions by now.
The reverse plotting helps retain the interest, as does the relatively short format (inside 90 minutes and therefore measures in at less than half one of Tarantino‘s self-love-fests) but it is really Uziel’s buzzy script that allows this movie to stand out from the crowd.
That and some cute performances, notably from Benjamin Walker as chilled small-town sheriff, Zeke Sikes, who looks like butter wouldn’t melt but has hidden depths. In fact, Uziel has gathered together a largely unfamiliar ensemble cast, certainly to British audiences, but most do pretty darn well, the exception being those typically hammy moments as the bank robbers (who are also police officers) start panicking and lose their grip on reality.
However, I would like to mention Mark Rendall‘s simpleton meth addict, Chris Morrow. His was more convincing a portrayal of a young man with learning difficulties doubly handicapped by drugs than I’ve seen in some while – and this is not something easy to achieve with credibility, though I did think it stretching credulity that a meth addict would have a car, and an old Cadillac at that.
As for the plot, there is relatively little to it, though as the Coen brothers demonstrated to great effect in the noirish masterpiece of a thriller Blood Simple, you don’t need a convoluted plot to engage the audience, providing the attention to detail captivates viewers from start to finish. In short, we should be allowed to observe the consternation and confusion among the characters from a detached perspective and enjoy the twist without having to figure out endless minutiae with each turn of the script.
Fact is that there is little to remember here other than the relationships: the sheriff’s brother Andy (Rainn Wilson) is a detective, one of the gang, husband and father to Martha and Sally respectively, who do not know what is going on. Ed Burton (Wyatt Russell, son of Kurt and Goldie Hawn, and looks it too) is the gang’s head honcho and also a cop, ably assisted by his missus Steph (Stephanie Sigman) who is not necessarily all that she seems. There are also slow-witted FBI agents, whom Zeke mocks with aplomb; and local Judge Dawkins (John Michael Higgins), whose guilty secret is rent boys but who comes into contact with the money for a short while before meeting his own untimely demise.
Oh yes, the money? It gets passed around like a game of pass the parcel, all the better to avoid detection. Except it depends whose perspective you’re viewing it from, since the real currency here is information, and we don’t get that until the denouement, though you will probably have figured out what’s going on by then. After all, the gang are way too hapless and dim-witted to have engineered a neat solution all by themselves.
And the eponymous lake, I hear you ask? That is almost incidental, other than being a local scenic feature. That is where the gang were supposed to meet, but due to unexpected deaths and hold-ups along the way only one actually turns up. Our lasting image of the lake is a vast explosion in the cabin by the lakeside, which we view from a safe distance over the other side. RIP Andy, I’m sure your family will miss you.