The continued question of how faith influences people’s decisions, and how their beliefs guide them during a time of moral questioning and an ethical dilemma, can largely impact how they live and contend with the consequences of their actions. That humanizing inquiry also influences how people relate to, and care for, those most important in their lives. That question is certainly the inspiring motivation in director David M. Rosenthal’s new crime drama thriller, ‘A Single Shot,’ which is set to be released theatrically in New York on Friday at AMC Empire 25. The director created an emotionally-driven thriller that explores how extreme, continuous action can lead to an emotionally distant man finally examining his life choices, relationships and overall outlook on life.
‘A Single Shot’ starts with a bang, as a hunter, John Moon (Sam Rockwell), aims a single shot at a lone deer, which accidentally hits and kills a young woman. Unable to help save her, John instead watches her die. In his haste to figure out how to cover up his unintentional crime, John discovers a box of money near her body. In a desperate panic, he takes the cash, and immediately begins spending it. He hires a low-rent lawyer, Pitt (William H. Macy), to fight his wife, Moira’s (Kelly Reilly), divorce and custody lawsuits. In the process, John also attempts to cover up the killing. But when he discovers that the money belonged to a group of hardened criminals, the hunter becomes the hunted in a cat-and-mouse struggle in the backwoods of West Virginia.
Rosenthal smartly cast Rockwell, an actor he had long wanted to work with on a film, in the lead role of John. The Screen Actors Guild-nominated performer instantly and effortlessly responded to the struggles of the emotionally lone hunter as he not only contends with his inadvertent act of murder, but also how the consequences to cover up his crime affect his life. Growing up as an only child, Rockwell naturally understood and related to John’s unease of being around, and trusting, people who don’t understand his lifestyle and choices, which authentically made it harder for the hunter to trust anyone with his offense.
Rockwell further proved his acting ability by downplaying his own natural charisma and social presence to accentuate John’s loneliness and inability to move past his most significant relationships. His continued hope of reuniting with Moira and their young son is subtly, but dramatically, emphasized by his distrust of new people, as well as his self-doubt on his decisions and actions. The naturally cautious gestures and body language Rockwell incorporates into John’s demeanor, such as being unable to comfort his son when he visits him, and his hesitance to help the woman as he watch her lay dying, further showcase his inability to truly relate to other people.
While ‘A Single Shot’ is set in West Virginia, the crime drama thriller was filmed in and around Vancouver. The area provided visually stunning and aesthetically pleasing locations that helped showcase the desolation and hopelessness the characters, particularly John, are feeling. Cinematographer Eduard Grau creatively used the cloudy winter weather and looming mountains surrounding John’s remote home to stress the continued despair the hunter regularly felt. The dilapidated homes, offices and streets Rosenthal commendably featured in the thriller, which emphasized the town’s financial difficulties through Grau’s well-planned lingering shots in muted greys and blues, also provided intriguing glimpses into the characters’ motives and emotions. The attention on John’s isolated and derelict trailer in the woods, for example, captivatingly shows his inability to maintain a job and serious relationships.
Screenwriter Matthew F. Jones, who adapted the film’s script from his 1996 novel of the same name, naturally captured the emotional difficulties John had in dealing with his crime he committed while trying to contend with the loss of his family. The scribe admirably adapted the book to feature the main character continuously questioning his choices and lifestyle, while struggling to prove to his loved ones that he can change for the better, in a creative way reminiscent of the Coen Brothers.
While John is at times a morally reprehensible protagonist who strives to improve his life to prove to his family that he’s changing for the better, the emotional revolution of the character unfortunately fails to help build the intrigue and suspense of the supporting characters. The hunter’s elusive relationships and wary perception of his lawyer, the criminals trying to capture him and the town as a whole, unfortunately at times made it seem easy to believe that he didn’t have any desire to change his ways, despite his claims to the contrary.
‘A Single Shot’ is an intriguing crime drama thriller that naturally showcased Rockwell’s expansive acting range. The most captivating element of the film is the actor’s unexpected, but welcomed, softening of his own natural charisma and social presence to emphasize John’s loneliness and inability to accept the ending of his most important relationships. While Jones effortlessly captured the hunter’s unease in social settings from his book for the script, the continued emphasis on John’s evolution regrettably failed to build the suspense and motives of the supporting characters. But the provided visually stunning and aesthetically pleasing locations Grau captured helped showcase the desolation and hopelessness the characters regularly felt, proving how the economic circumstances of a town influences its residents.