What happens in the mountains stays in the mountains. Or at least in this case it should of. David Rosenthal’s “A Single Shot” is another one of those movies telling the story of someone living in a remote area of the mountains who gets caught up in an unexpected and heavily dramatic situation. With so few characters involved and little else for the audience to focus on, you have to make absolutely certain that there’s a solid story to be told, and indeed there appears to be the faint glimmers of one here, but as we soon discover, Rosenthal and his screenwriter Matthew Jones aren’t quite up to the task of fleshing it out.
The film tells the story of John Moon (Sam Rockwell), a hunter who now lives alone after separating from his wife. While on a hunt in the isolated area around his house, he accidentally shoots and kills a young woman. In a panic, he hides the body, discovering a large amount of money in the process. Thinking that no one saw him, he goes back home and returns his attention to trying to settle things with his wife, who took their kid with her when she left. However, he quickly discovers that he didn’t quite get away with his little cover-up as he is soon harassed by phone calls and attacks on his property, warning that if he doesn’t return the money soon, there will be far worse consequences to come.
This, in a nutshell, is the main story that the filmmakers want to tell in “A Single Shot,” which immediately begs the question of why they put the film together the way they did. For the most part, it plays out like it’s confused as to what it wants to be about. We have the genesis of the main plot at the beginning, but it quickly turns towards John trying to reconcile with his wife, with him even going so far as to consult a lawyer (William H. Macy). We keep coming back to the main story, only to be distracted by something else a few minutes later (a visit from a long-time friend (Jeffrey Wright), or a few visits from another acquaintance (Ophelia Lovibond)).
As you can probably guess, this causes the film to drag quite a bit as we wait for it to get back to the main storyline. If these characters and portions of the film had been better developed and integrated, then it would have been less jarring to jump back and forth, but ultimately, they end up serving little purpose in the grand scheme of the main plot. In particular, it appeared as though they wanted to make the wife an important character, or at least make us sympathize with why John does what he does through her, but her lack of development in the story makes it rather hard to do so.
The film itself runs nearly two hours, which makes it rather sad to discover that the removal of all the excess could have not only brought the story into much better focus, but it could have brought it down to a better running time, effectively helping the dead pacing. As I mentioned, the films jumps around between relevant and irrelevant portions, giving the film a feeling of starting and stopping over and over again, but even when it does focus where it needs to, it takes a long time getting around to doing anything to advance the story.
The performances in the film are a bit of a mixed bag. Sam Rockwell is an incredibly underrated actor, delivering one of his best performances in a long time in “The Way, Way Back” earlier this year, which makes it disappointing to see him slumming it in a film like this. He pretty much spends the film muttering his lines and going through the motions, which makes it difficult to form any kind of emotional connection with the character.
William H. Macy is another actor who’s always a delight to see, but he’s completely wasted here on another undeveloped character that only appears in three scenes. Then there’s Jeffrey Wright, who is drunk in the two scenes in which we see him on camera, with the second time being a really bad decision by the actor and filmmakers. It’s a scene in which we’re supposed to learn much of the backstory, but Wright slurs everything together so badly, you’re lucky if you’re able to understand one in three words.
The ending also left a little to be desired. Some character actions in the climax just didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but with the little care that the story’s gotten up to that point, it’s hardly surprising. With a little more focus, “A Single Shot” could have made for a riveting thriller. It’s hard to imagine why they would allow for so many distractions to be placed in the film. Each distraction is just another risk of the viewer losing interest, which filmmakers usually do their best to avoid. There’s a fascinating start of a story here, but the perplexing decision to smother it ends up doing no favors for anyone. 2/4 stars.
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