Berlin Review: A Single Shot

Ashley Clark

Sadly not a documentary about one-take wonder Russian Ark, David M. Rosenthal’s A Single Shot is instead a glum, plodding backwoods thriller that prominently features every single generic cliché in the book.

Sam Rockwell (by a million miles the best thing here) plays John Moon, a grizzled loner estranged from his wife and son, living in a shack in some unidentified American backwater. Out in the woods one morning on an illegal hunt, he takes a potshot at what he thinks is a deer, but unfortunately happens to be a young woman. As is often the way in the movies, the dead girl has a large amount of hard cash on her person. So, does short-of-a-bob-or-two Moon swipe the cash?

Of course he bloody does, and so begins a predictable, relentlessly grim game of cat and mouse in which Moon attempts to evade the clutches of a seedy criminal network that gradually engulfs him. To help the plot unspool, characters constantly make inexplicable decisions, while the machine-oiling coincidences pile up at a rate of knots.

Most reviews of A Single Shot either will or have referenced the films that it apes, and unfortunately this one will be no different. Clearly looking to the likes of Sam Raimi’s A Simple Plan and Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone for inspiration, Rosenthal’s film lacks the moral complexity, narrative ingenuity or surprise factor of either. Everything is shot with a grim blue hue, and though the atmosphere is convincingly oppressive, the bleak situation feels so transparently constructed that it’s hard to get emotionally involved in. The one unique thing the film has going for it is its soundtrack; an atonal, frenetic tangle of stabby The Shining-esque strings. Unfortunately, it’s deployed with such hysterical abandon that it swiftly becomes laughable.

The authentically frazzled Rockwell aside, the rest of the cast don’t do much to help. Kelly Reilly makes very little impact as Moon’s wife, while Jason Isaacs pops up as the main baddie but is horribly miscast, looking (and acting) more like Bono after an epic Guinness and kebab bender than a ruthless backwoods crimelord. Rosenthal also sees fit to waste actors of the calibre of William H. Macy and Jeffrey Wright, who pop up in telegraphed, over-the-top roles as a crooked lawyer and Moon’s “best friend”, respectively.

And then, just when you think matters can’t get any worse, Rosenthal ties things up with a denoument of such amazingly heavy-handed irony that you think he might actually be taking the piss. A Single Shot is a film that does absolutely nothing new, in the most laborious fashion imaginable.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark  

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