Meskada Movie Review: Small Town Crime Drama with Less Punch Than It Could Have Had

Detective Noah Cordin goes to investigate the murder of a young boy and winds up returning to his home town - not that he's all that welcome.
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Meskada (2010) written and directed by Josh Sternfeld is a small town crime drama that aims to blend personal tragedy with a bigger discussion of deepening socio-economic divisions. It starts out with a burglary gone bad. Under the guise of going out of town to work construction, Eddie (Kellan Lutz) and Shane (Jonathan Tucker) go on a robbery road trip. They break into a house they believe to be empty and wind up accidentally killing a young boy who had been left alone at home by his mother Alison Connor (Laura Benati).

meskadaDetective Noah Cordin (Nick Stahl) gets called in to work the case. Through thorough police work, he manages to find a lead that points him in the direction of a neighboring town, Caswell, where he was born. With the help of external police Leslie Spencer (Rachel Nichols), he goes to investigate, doing random interviews with something like 80 guys who all travel for work. Casting that wide a net means he's more or less is bound to catch something, in this case Shane's brother-in-law Dennis Burrows (Norman Reedus) who pings the cop's radar because he has a few priors and no alibi for the night in question.

This could have been an intense and personal drama with an overall heavier subtext of economic factors regarding crime and the political aspects of a crime like this one. Caswell is trying to attract a major corporation in order to revitalize their economy and the mother of the murdered child is on the board deciding if there is going to be additional funding for that project. As the investigation progresses and nothing happens, she gets more and more agitated and throws a wrench in the proceedings, causing even heavier problems for the little town.

In order to secure jobs and a boost to the economy, a few of the key players in Caswell who know all about the illegal money-making tactics take matters into their own hands. Shane and Eddie are trying to get out of town, but they get stopped and in the ensuing melee Shane is killed. He is then offered up as a sacrificial lamb in order to put an end to the investigation. The kicker is that he wasn't even the one who killed the boy.

The narrative aims for a gritty, raw small town drama with deeply personal impact, but it winds up being rather detached and somehow unfinished. There is more than enough tension in the underlying structure of the narrative for this to have the potential of being much more than it is. Despite good acting efforts, especially from Jonathan Tucker, it never seems to really get to where it needs to be. That is the core of the problem. There should be more than enough going on to create the kind of suspense that seems implicit, but still you find yourself firmly in the position of an observer and that means the points that should create suspense seem to lack momentum.

This is mostly a morally centered tale, where the good guys are slightly ineffectual and the bad guys are more victims of circumstance and misfortune than anything else. The consequence of their actions are neither rewarded nor punished in any particular way and the corruption and misdirection is less upsetting than is should be, up to and including the deliberate falsehood that officer Noah serves up to the grieving mother, assuring her that her son's killer has been caught and summarily executed by his own. You can infer that he does that as a double service, both to give her some kind of closure and to make sure that she will stop putting the breaks on the deal Caswell is trying to negotiate and thus ensuring that the town where he grew up can get back on its feet.

Just to be clear, this is not a bad movie, it's just a little bland. It has the potential to be more than it is, but it never really takes off and that's too bad. It's unfortunate that it does not, but you could spend a rainy afternoon in worse ways.

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