What is supposed to be a dramatic thriller, A SINGLE SHOT, is more like a lone dud or loud thud in this adaptation by Matthew F. Jones of his own novel. Directed by David M. Rosenthal, Sam Rockwell leads the charge as John Moon. A simple dairy farmer just scraping by after the loss of the family farm, his wife has left him and taken their infant son with her, leaving him to mourn their departure in the solitude of the local woods where he hunts deer and other game.
Known for his somewhat illegal hunting and having had more than one run in with the law over poaching, on this dewy dank and dreary day, Moon is out chasing down a deer. Shooting at a moving target, he hears it fall and runs over to grab his kill. But its not a deer that he’s brought down. It’s a young girl and she’s dead. Knowing his past, knowing this hunt was illegal and still begging his wife to return home because he’s a “good guy”, Moon realizes that no one can learn of this killing. Scouting the area, he finds where the girl has been squatting. He also finds a large stash of cash.
Hiding the dead body in a dumpster, Moon takes the cash, believing it will solve all of his problems. But we all know what comes from ill-gotten gains; especially when the gains are the property of hardened killers. As to be expected, in this rural West Virginia town, it doesn’t take long before every unsavory character around is after him, coming at him from all sides with violence escalating at every turn.
Given the poorly scripted adaptation, Sam Rockwell does what he can with the convoluted madness. Accepting John Moon as a flawed and conflicted character, Rockwell not only plays on Moon’s shortcomings, but adds nuanced lawyers of humanity and kindness that is not only touching, but evokes empathy. Given the interesting character study that Rockwell delivers with a poor script, I can only imagine what he would have done with something more cinematic, richer, and unfettered.
William H. Macy makes an all too-brief appearance as the local lawyer, Pitt. With bad toupee, ugly polyester plaid jacket, and a gimped right arm and leg as if post-stroke or polio, Pitt is a man with a seemingly harmless, yet duplicitous, duality which, again, Macy is not given a chance to fully explore. Supporting local criminals are stereotypical and undefined yet are portrayed by notable actors who have nothing to really work with - Jason Isaacs (who is surprisingly one-note as ex-con Waylon), Ted Levine, Jeffrey Wright and even Melissa Leo - all fall into a mumble jumble of too many characters and an undefined and refined plot.
While director Rosenthal guides us with subtle sparsity, surprising is the failure by Jones to make a more cinematic adaptation of his own work, especially given the very nature of the subject matter.
Eduard Grau’s cinematography is oppressive, hazy and murky as if the entire film was shot under a metaphoric fog; particularly disappointing given the importance of handwritten notes displayed on screen which are integral to the story and action but under the visual mire, are unreadable.
If you’re going to take a shot at A SINGLE SHOT, make it Jones’ novel (which is excellent) or grab a bottle of some sippin’ whiskey as you'll need more than "a single shot" to get through A SINGLE SHOT.
Directed by David M. Rosenthal
Written by Matthew F. Jones based on his novel of the same name
Cast: Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jason Isaacs, Ted Levine, Jeffrey Wright