Small Engine Repair - B
Rated R, 103 minutes
The intense, well-acted "Small Engine Repair" is a powerful case study of brotherhood, family and contemporary, toxic masculinity that is often so pervasive. Based on an award-winning play of the same name, the tense last act is too stagey, but its thought-provoking themes will stay with you.
Frankie (John Pollono, who directed and wrote the film, based on his play), Swaino ("The Walking Dead's" Jon Bernthal) and Packie ("Fargo's" Shea Wigham) are lifelong friends in New Hampshire who share a love of the Red Sox, rowdy bars and Frankie's teenaged daughter Crystal (Ciara Bravo of "Red Band Society"). But when Frankie invites his pals to a whiskey-fueled evening and asks them to do a favor on behalf of the brash young woman they all adore, events spin wildly out of control.
The sublime, tense "Small Engine Repair" provides a sense of the saying "I have your back." Friendships and family are at the core of Pollono's compelling film based on his original play; he knows the material well and it shows as he channels universally strong performances from the cast. The excellent Pollono and the film's most familiar actor, Berenthal, also known from MCU's "The Punisher," reprise their original stage roles (and Berenthal is solid in the film's most unlikable character), while character actor Wigham, Bravo, newcomer Spencer House and "Ozark's" Jordana Spiro (memorably tough, she throws better punches than the men) are all strong additions to the film.
All of the actors handle the New England accents reasonably well and the film wears its Northern sensibilities as an honorable badge, unsurprising given that Pollono, a character you may know from "This is Us," is a New Hampshire native. Its flawed final act seems too stagey and overly choreographed, which occasionally happens with adaptations of stage plays, but it opts for a thought-provoking, even brave ending when many in this genre would have taken its revenge themes to the hilt.
"Small Engine Repair" is worth a look for its stellar themes and unconventional, subtle handling of its themes, in this case a good thing. And it may prompt you to ask yourself, would I have done the same in this situation?