“Small Town Murder Songs” is set in a small Mennonite town in Ontario, Canada. On an average day, police officer Walter (Peter Stormare) will give tickets to locals for speeding, or be the escort for a house-on-wheels convoy. Walter has a nice girlfriend (Martha Plimpton), who works at the local diner, and life is comfortably slow. There’s some violent skeletons in Walter’s closet, but for the most part he doesn’t have to deal with them. That is, until a woman gets murdered and Walter finds that all roads point in the direction of his estranged ex-girlfriend Rita (Jill Hennessy) and her new boyfriend Steve (Stephen Eric McIntyre). As the murder investigation rolls along, Walter is forced to confront his religious conviction that he can choose to be greater than his violent past would suggest.
Stormare plays Walter uptight and proper, and his normal stoic delivery works wonderfully here, as it makes him seem like he’s constantly warring with himself on the inside. Hidden behind a big mustache, he actually looks a lot like Stanley Tucci’s malevolent neighbor in “The Lovely Bones,” but he somehow manages to pull off sympathetic instead of straight-up creepy.
Despite being bolstered by a wonderful and overpowering score by Bruce Peninsula (that sounds like a church recital gone aggro), “Small Town Murder Songs” is a movie more in the slow-roll vein of a “Sling Blade” than a “Fargo.” Once the players are presented, and the hints dropped, it becomes less about figuring out who did what, but more about whether Stormare’s Walter will follow the road he’s on all the way to the end. That’s the only real question in the movie: has Walter truly found redemption in God, and will he stay redeemed by the end of the film.
You’re either into the ride or you’re not, honestly. You either accept that this is about Walter, and his mental descent (or ascent, depending on your view) and enjoy the character study or you’re probably bored because an average episode of “Law and Order: SVU” has more twists and turns than “Small Town Murder Songs” does. Again, though, that’s not the point. This is a character study in redemption.