Tonight’s best bet at Cinequest is The Last Lullaby, showing at 7 pm at the California Theatre.

ONE OF THE most promising films at Cinequest plays at the very end of the festival. Tom Sizemore stars in The Last Lullaby, Based on the Max Allan Collins’ short story “A Matter of Principle.” This beautifully understated crime drama is class from the get-go.

Sizemore’s Price is seen in the opening titles, face hanging sleepless in the dark, recalling Martin Sheen’s still-in-Saigon moments in Apocalypse Now. Price rises to do some of the Philip Marlowe things in the wee hours: to monkey with a chessboard and look for a book. Out for a trip to the all-night market, he overhears some punks talking about a hostage they’ve taken; Price follows them, kills them and takes the girl they kidnapped—and then helps himself to the ransom.

Word gets around, and when the father of the kidnapped girl needs a woman whacked, he tracks Price down; despite his retirement from crime, he agrees to do the job. In one of Chandler’s novels, Marlowe described Ernest Hemingway as someone who repeated things until they sound good. Sizemore does that too, as if he had a spot of hardness of hearing or he liked repeating the dialogue, which is artlessly artful: “This small talk is so … small?”

With a widow’s peak and some heft to the neck, Sizemore is getting to look like Bogart, and his underplayed, almost whispered performance as Price is a new mode of acting for him. Sizemore brings the authenticity, and director Jeffrey Goodman gives this compelling gunman’s tale a handsome look.

It was filmed in Shreveport but has a northern prairie’s chill and loneliness. Sizemore’s chaotic public life is a matter of record, but the results may be what count; life has slowed him and beat him up a bit, and he’s tougher-looking for it. Maybe the only good side of the Iraq war is that we’ll be getting some actors who really look like they’ve been through something.

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