Judge Clark Douglas wrote this review in a single draft.
One chance. One secret. One mistake.
"I don't wanna divorce. I just want my family back."
Facts of the Case
John Moon (Sam Rockwell, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind) has fallen on some tough times in recent years. Recently separated from his family, he's been forced to make a living by poaching animals in the upstate New York wilderness. One day, one of John's hunting trips takes a dark turn: he accidentally shoots and kills a teenage girl. He doesn't know who she is or why she was wandering around in the middle of nowhere, but among her possessions is a box containing $100,000 in cash. John's guilt over what he has done is suppressed by the opportunity to start a new life, so he buries the body, keeps the money and makes an effort at turning his life around. Unfortunately, it isn't long before he finds a host of angry criminals hot on his trail…
I'm generally a sucker for movies like A Single Shot: dark morality tales that find a desperate protagonist doing everything within their power to slip the ever-tightening noose around their neck. Fine recent examples of this subgenre include Sam Raimi's A Simple Plan, Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men and Ridley Scott's underrated The Counselor. The problem with A Single Shot, unfortunately, is that it borrows liberally from other similarly-themed tales without ever really delivering anything unique or interesting of its own. Well, that's not entirely true, but the unique elements it does provide aren't unique in a particularly good way.
Though it takes its story and its central character very seriously, A Single Shot largely serves as an opportunity for colorful, talented character actors to go too far over the top. I don't think I've ever seen a truly bad performance from the phenomenally talented Jeffrey Wright (Casino Royale), but the unintelligible drunk he plays is this film certainly isn't one of his greater creations. William H. Macy does an unconvincing variation on a slippery southern lawyer, while Jason Isaacs plays yet another Incredibly Evil Character (essentially a less interesting version of the over-the-top villain he played in the oddly compelling Sweetwater). The critical blurb on the Blu-ray case insists that the film is, "reminiscent of Winter's Bone," but that's only true on a surface level. While Winter's Bone had a rich, nuanced world filled with persuasive atmosphere and credible characters, A Single Shot often feels artificial and stereotypical.
Time after time, the movie pushes too hard when a more subtle approach would have worked better. There's a terribly clunky early scene in which John meets up with his ex-wife (Kelly Reilly, Flight), which forces the two characters to tell each other plenty of things they both already know for the sake of getting the audience up to speed. This happens on more than one occasion throughout the film; threatening speeches are undercut by the sheer amount of exposition they contain. The score by Icelandic composer Atli Orvarsson doesn't help, either, consistently pushing the film into conventional thriller territory and underlining every tense moment in drab-yet-overbearing fashion.
The film makes too many mistakes to really work, but Sam Rockwell does his level best to make it worth seeing, anyway. It's a tormented, persuasive performance from a consistently terrific actor who has a habit of rising above weak material (remember the way he casually stole Iron Man 2 from Robert Downey, Jr.?). The actor is a bit more low-key than usual here, but it's an approach that works quite well for the battered, troubled character. If the rest of the film had been up to the standard of Rockwell's work, we might have had a real gem on our hands.
A Single Shot (Blu-ray) boasts a reasonably satisfactory 1080p/2.35:1 transfer that highlights the film's overcast visual design (everything seems to be a murky shade of blue, grey or brown). Detail is generally solid throughout, though there were moments in which I wished that depth was a little stronger. Shadow delineation is impressive enough. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is fairly immersive, though Orvarsson's score occasionally suppresses the fine sound design to a surprising degree (and that's not a complaint I generally have—music is often disappointingly undermixed in modern cinema). Supplements include the featurette "The Making of A Single Shot," plenty of additional interviews with major cast and crew members (Rockwell, Isaacs, Macy, Reilly, Wright, Ted Levine, director David Rosenthal and cinematographer Eduard Grau) and a trailer.
Despite containing a stellar Sam Rockwell performance, A Single Shot never lives up to the standard of its assorted inspirations.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
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