Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: A Single Shot

Sam Rockwell delivers another outstanding performance in this saturnine meditation on greed set in backwoods Appalachia.

Sept 19, 2013

-By Rex Roberts


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1385488-Single_Shot_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A dark, brooding movie laden with menace and despondency, A Single Shot can’t hope to attract wide audiences, but it would hold its own on a triple bill with Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan and Paul Schrader’s Affliction, if anyone could sit through so much aesthetic despair. David Rosenthal’s adaptation of Matthew F. Jones’ novel is harrowingly satisfying pulp, or noir, if you prefer: the stuff Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Patricia Highsmith would crank out for two cents a word in the middle of the last century, and directors Hitchcock, Truffaut and Peckinpah would mold into cinematic classics. A Single Shot isn’t quite that, but it’s a good yarn and a clever, if idiosyncratic, piece of filmmaking.

Idiosyncratic, in the sense that Rosenthal and Jones, who also wrote the screenplay, eschew exposition. There’s no set-up and little backstory, at least not in the traditional sense, so audiences must piece the story together as it unfolds. There’s a further caveat. Set in the mountains of West Virginia (filmed in Vancouver), the characters have thick accents and mumble, and they talk about people and events important to the plot but never dramatized. It’s easy to lose your concentration and, like a distracted hiker, find you’ve wandered off the path deep into the woods.

The story isn’t complicated, however. A down-on-his-luck farmer, John Moon (Sam Rockwell), living hand-to-mouth in a trailer in the hollow and poaching deer to survive, shoots and kills a young woman who, inexplicably, has been living in a makeshift lean-to at the bottom of an abandoned mining pit. Moon has been hunting off-season on restricted land, so he’s at fault despite that the death is clearly accidental. Then he finds, equally inexplicably, a cash box full of hundred-dollar bills hidden in the folds of the woman’s sleeping bag and blankets. Panicking, but tempted by money he desperately needs to save his marriage and restart his life, Moon hides the body and takes the stash. Of course, there are evil people who believe the money belongs to them, and in small-town backcountry Appalachia, it’s not too hard, even for meth-addled hillbillies, to figure out who might have it.

Sam Rockwell is superb as Moon, a fundamentally good man who has lost his way; the actor, in a role diametrically opposite that of slacker Owen in this summer’s The Way Way Back, evokes Moon’s confusion and frustration without condescension—credit Rosenthal and Jones, too, for not overplaying the American Gothic shtick. The entire cast hit their marks, with William H. Macy providing comic relief as a grotesque backwoods lawyer in bad toupee and plaid jackets. Cinematographer Eduard Grau captures the desolation that creeps in with the fog—these woods are haunted dark and deep—and David Brisbin’s production design is spot-on, from the local greasy spoon to the waste dumps despoiling the forest.

Rosenthal’s previous movie, Janie Jones (featured in FJI’s September 2011 issue) was well-received, and A Single Shot should get solid reviews. A few plot points are contrived and, as noted above, others so understated that casual viewers will end up relying on the film’s atmospherics to follow the narrative. But Rosenthal and his crew know how to set mood and build a sense of dread that grabs us as much as it does Moon. A man makes a terrible mistake, discovers he has been spiraling downward for a long time, struggles to find some sort of redemption—vintage noir with just enough violence to remind us that cautionary tales are often scary ones.



Film Review: A Single Shot

Sam Rockwell delivers another outstanding performance in this saturnine meditation on greed set in backwoods Appalachia.

Sept 19, 2013

-By Rex Roberts


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1385488-Single_Shot_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

A dark, brooding movie laden with menace and despondency, A Single Shot can’t hope to attract wide audiences, but it would hold its own on a triple bill with Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan and Paul Schrader’s Affliction, if anyone could sit through so much aesthetic despair. David Rosenthal’s adaptation of Matthew F. Jones’ novel is harrowingly satisfying pulp, or noir, if you prefer: the stuff Jim Thompson, David Goodis and Patricia Highsmith would crank out for two cents a word in the middle of the last century, and directors Hitchcock, Truffaut and Peckinpah would mold into cinematic classics. A Single Shot isn’t quite that, but it’s a good yarn and a clever, if idiosyncratic, piece of filmmaking.

Idiosyncratic, in the sense that Rosenthal and Jones, who also wrote the screenplay, eschew exposition. There’s no set-up and little backstory, at least not in the traditional sense, so audiences must piece the story together as it unfolds. There’s a further caveat. Set in the mountains of West Virginia (filmed in Vancouver), the characters have thick accents and mumble, and they talk about people and events important to the plot but never dramatized. It’s easy to lose your concentration and, like a distracted hiker, find you’ve wandered off the path deep into the woods.

The story isn’t complicated, however. A down-on-his-luck farmer, John Moon (Sam Rockwell), living hand-to-mouth in a trailer in the hollow and poaching deer to survive, shoots and kills a young woman who, inexplicably, has been living in a makeshift lean-to at the bottom of an abandoned mining pit. Moon has been hunting off-season on restricted land, so he’s at fault despite that the death is clearly accidental. Then he finds, equally inexplicably, a cash box full of hundred-dollar bills hidden in the folds of the woman’s sleeping bag and blankets. Panicking, but tempted by money he desperately needs to save his marriage and restart his life, Moon hides the body and takes the stash. Of course, there are evil people who believe the money belongs to them, and in small-town backcountry Appalachia, it’s not too hard, even for meth-addled hillbillies, to figure out who might have it.

Sam Rockwell is superb as Moon, a fundamentally good man who has lost his way; the actor, in a role diametrically opposite that of slacker Owen in this summer’s The Way Way Back, evokes Moon’s confusion and frustration without condescension—credit Rosenthal and Jones, too, for not overplaying the American Gothic shtick. The entire cast hit their marks, with William H. Macy providing comic relief as a grotesque backwoods lawyer in bad toupee and plaid jackets. Cinematographer Eduard Grau captures the desolation that creeps in with the fog—these woods are haunted dark and deep—and David Brisbin’s production design is spot-on, from the local greasy spoon to the waste dumps despoiling the forest.

Rosenthal’s previous movie, Janie Jones (featured in FJI’s September 2011 issue) was well-received, and A Single Shot should get solid reviews. A few plot points are contrived and, as noted above, others so understated that casual viewers will end up relying on the film’s atmospherics to follow the narrative. But Rosenthal and his crew know how to set mood and build a sense of dread that grabs us as much as it does Moon. A man makes a terrible mistake, discovers he has been spiraling downward for a long time, struggles to find some sort of redemption—vintage noir with just enough violence to remind us that cautionary tales are often scary ones.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

Tracks
Film Review: Tracks

Ably supported by Adam Driver, Mia Wasikowska commands the screen in John Curran’s superbly photographed drama based on a true story. More »

The Zero Theorem
Film Review: The Zero Theorem

A noisy, hyperkinetic, visually gorgeous spectacle that tackles the mother of all big questions–the meaning of life—Terry Gilliam's latest is sometimes frustrating and occasionally outright goofy, but it's never dull. More »

Art and Craft
Film Review: Art and Craft

Documentary portrait of the artist as a disturbed man, but one who is overwhelmingly endearing, functioning and talented—and whose métier happens to be art forgery. This smartly produced and constructed art-themed art-house entry delivers a canvas of caper, comedy and delightful curiosities that engage and provoke some serious thought. Like the hero’s forgeries, it deserves a close look. More »

Pump
Film Review: Pump

Thought-provoking documentary about the lunacy of only fueling cars with gasoline loses credibility the more it turns into a single-minded broadside. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

The Maze Runner
Film Review: The Maze Runner

Youths try to break out of a deadly maze in the latest young-adult doomsday thriller. More »

This is Where I Leave You
Film Review: This Is Where I Leave You

Siblings bond, fight and face new problems after the death of their father in an ensemble dramedy based on the best-selling novel. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here