‘A Single Shot’ fails to mimic classic neo-noir filmsPosted on September 19, 2013 | by Zack Grullon
What prevents Sam Rockwell from being a throwaway character actor is his occasional ventures into more complex dramatic roles. While “A Single Shot” may not be up to par with his most complicated work, Rockwell nevertheless gives a committed performance in this cat-and-mouse thriller set in the backwoods of West Virginia.
Rockwell plays John Moon, who, after losing his job on a farm, spends his days drinking and hunting in squalor. His wife and son do not live with him, and despite a pending divorce, Moon is determined to win them back. One day, he goes out hunting in illegal territory and finds a deer. He tries to shoot it, and not only misses his target, but also discovers that the buckshot found its way to a nearby girl, killing her instantly. Moon carries the girl to her trailer, placing her in bed in an attempt to disguise her death as a suicide. Along the way, he discovers a case filled with thousands of dollars in her bed and unwisely takes it, not knowing it belongs to a group of criminals.
With that premise, the influence of famed neo-noir directors Joel and Ethan Coen smothers the film. Director David Rosenthal makes one contrived technical achievement after another, and while the West Virginia setting makes for some gorgeous cinematography, Rosenthal too frequently relies on tropes of noir films, like the sound of screeching violins to suggest tension.
Rosenthal has also assembled a strong cast of talen-ted actors, but he misdirects too many of them. Jeffrey Wright and William H. Macy, two talented actors, mumble lines as if they forgot what they were supposed to say. Luckily, the film mostly centers on Rockwell, who completely embodies his character’s sadness and moral quandary throughout the film.
Rosenthal is more successful with establishing tension. This is a film where a gunshot becomes a well-executed jump scare. Even watching two people talking can be tense, due to the unsafe atmosphere surrounding these characters. The paranoia works because Moon does not know who is coming after him and begins to question people close to him, even if they are not guilty. Unfortunately, those well-crafted scenes of tension are punctua-ted by dull philosophical discussions between characters incongruous to the larger narrative.
“Shot” is not completely a waste, because even if its inspirations are too obvious, there has not been a cat-and-mouse thriller of its kind in years. The problem is, the film is just too uneven to truly sustain itself, from its strong cast and beautiful cinematography to its overblown direction. “A Single Shot” could have even been an Oscar contender like the films it wants to imitate, but as it stands, it serves as slightly better-than-average entertainment.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 19 print edition. Zack Grullon is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.