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

Sagrada
Film Review: Sagrada: The Mystery of Creation

The fabulous 130-year work-in-progress that is Barcelona's Sagrada Familia cathedral, as well as its crazy-brilliant originator, Antonio Gaudi, is the focus of this vividly informative documentary. More »

Inside the Mind of Leonardo
Film Review: Inside the Mind of Leonardo in 3D

Documentary-feature hybrid that offers unexpected insight into the world of Leonardo da Vinci, but nonetheless suffers from a heavy hand and pretentious sensibility. More »

If You Don't., I Will
Film Review: If You Don't, I Will

Anemic drama about a forever-bickering couple who do not at all get along nor emit a scintilla of chemistry. It’s a disappointing, too-lean portrait of a marriage. More »

Mr. Turner
Film Review: Mr. Turner

In Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner, arguably the year’s most gorgeous film, Timothy Spall etches an indelible portrait of the great painter, aided by a marvelous supporting cast who make the period spring alive. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Annie review
Film Review: Annie

Here’s an updated Annie for today’s entitled, tech-savvy and racially diverse generation of tweens who can easily relate to the new Annie’s love of luxurious toys. Their parents and other adults may miss the sweet innocence of the original, but they won’t be entirely bored by this frenetic new version of her classic story. More »

The H obbit: The Battle of the Five Armies
Film Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

After rewriting the rules for modern fantasy cinema, for the better and worse, Peter Jackson’s six-film Tolkien saga slams, bangs and shudders to a long-overdue conclusion. 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