Sam Rockwell is one talented, free-spirited dude, with one of the longest lists of bad movies no single actor deserves. Even in a dog like Seven Psychopaths, he managed to be nothing less than watchable. Unfortunately, hiding his face behind a smelly beard and speaking in a low, inaudible mumble, he does nothing to breathe any life into a hopeless waste of time called A Single Shot.
While poaching the land for deer in the predawn hours of a remote corner of West Virginia, a hunter without a license named John Moon (Mr. Rockwell) aims a single shot from his rifle at a buck and accidentally hits and kills a girl. After deciding to leave her where he found her, he discovers a small box full of money next to the body and uses it to hire a shyster lawyer (William H. Macy) to fight a divorce suit brought down on his head by his vindictive wife (Kelly Reilly). John’s troubles increase when he learns the loot belongs to a gang of vicious thugs who want their money back and will stop at nothing to find the thief who stole it. Windows are broken, his hound dog is killed, and bullets fly. As the list of reprobates grows, he pays a visit to his soon-to-be ex-wife to find an oversexed babysitter and her tattooed boyfriend going at it in front of John’s baby. Then his pal Simon (an unintelligible Jeffrey Wright) turns up with two sexy cousins and mumbles something like, “She got a lion tattooed on the back of her hind pot. … Do me a favor and make that S.O.B. roar. One cousin is almost all I can handle in one night.” The idiotic dialogue by Matthew F. Jones (who based the alleged screenplay on his own bleak, one-dimensional novel) is as senseless as it is vulgar, but the direction by David M. Rosenthal is so inept that you can’t hear much of what anyone says anyway. Count your blessings.
Since most of the film takes place in the backwoods fog and rain in the deep of the night, it’s not easy to see a lot of what’s going on, either. It seems to have been photographed through muddy water mixed with coffee. It’s a hack job that needs opening up and airing out, but Mr. Rosenthal is not the one to do it. Confrontations between muttering, incoherent tertiary people abound, but you couldn’t exactly call it character development. In the savagery and bloodshed, there isn’t a single revelation. No wonder in the press notes Mr. Rosenthal names his influences as P. T. Anderson, Terrence Malick and the Coen brothers—three examples of people who have done the most to reduce filmmaking to ambiguous cinematic gibberish. Among the otherwise gifted actors wasting away their energy here, it’s especially disheartening to see the always excellent Jason Isaacs.
A sleazy fraternity of creepy cutthroats fighting savagely over a bag of drug money in the hands of a rifle-toting hillbilly through a battery of red herrings and double crosses is the stock and trade of dozens of B-movie potboilers. What passes for a plot has been done a thousand times before—in much better films than A Single Shot.
A SINGLE SHOT
WRITTEN BY: Matthew F. Jones
directed BY: David M. Rosenthal
STARRING: Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright and Kelly Reilly
RUNNING TIME: 116 min.
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