For whatever reason there seems to be a fascination with Appalachia, or on a broader level the flyover country of between both American coasts, which produces fascinating results in entertainment. Whether it is A Simple Plan in past years or presently on television in Justified, the slang, customs and practices of folks in this culture onto itself remains curious through the years. And A Single Shot is the latest entry into the genre, with some familiar faces behind it.
Matthew F. Jones adapted his novel of the same name into a screenplay, and David M. Rosenthal (Janie Jones) directed. John Moon (Sam Rockwell, Moon) is estranged from his family and lives in the West Virginia countryside, essentially living off the land in a trailer there. One day while out hunting, he accidentally shoots and kills a young girl who was hiding in the forest. He is distraught by the killing of course, but then he finds out that with the girl, was a small box which included more than $200,000 in cash. Eventually those who know the girl and are familiar with her belongings want the money back and know that John has it, and begin to intimidate him into returning it.
The first thing that jumps out for me and will likely do the same for you is how many familiar faces appear in roles for this movie. Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) appears as Waylon, the story's main antagonist, and does so with a southern accent, long hair and white supremacist tattoos that make him look like neo-Nazi version of Scott Stapp. As the closest thing to John's friends, Jeffrey Wright (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close) plays Simon, whose loyalties change with the breeze it seems, and Cecile (Ted Levine, Monk) seems to be an ally, though he appears in one scene. Pitt is a lawyer in town, played by William H. Macy (The Sessions), though his motivations would also become fuzzy as the film goes on. Generally, all their performances are decent, and to see this ensemble of five actors would bring pleasant surprise in normal circumstances.
Normal circumstances do not enter into the discussion when it comes to A Single Shot however. John is supposed to be the protagonist and a sympathetic figure, but there are few moments of resonance that illustrate that John is something that the viewer should sympathize with. When this does start to occur in the movie, its inclusion appears to be convenient in an ‘oh, almost forgot about this' way of thinking. That the film is a hair under 110 minutes before the closing credits is another problem; it could have had 15 minutes shorn from it and not be as arduous to watch, to the point of being mundane.
The film does have occasional moments of what could have been between some of the notable actors. The occasional scenes between Rockwell and Wright are fun to watch, as are the moments when Macy appears onscreen. But in a world where your main character is a recluse and even possibly a social maladroit, these traits are bound to appear for said character throughout the film, and A Single Shot suffers for it.
For the promise that A Single Shot has with those involved in front of the camera, it is the work of the story that does not match the lineage. For the potential of the basic premise of the film and the actors with it, it appears to be more enamored with who can perform the best stereotype of a redneck rather than selling a story that as it turns out is pretty hollow. The film is intriguing in theory, and underachieving in execution.
The AVC encode which adorns this 2.35:1 widescreen, high definition transfer is quite nice. The film may be set in West Virginia, but was actually shot in Vancouver and the large trees and subdued exteriors all look sharp and lack saturation issues. The film's color palette is slightly muted and drab so there are quite a few grays and blacks, which all look deep and present decent contrast to boot. The exteriors tend to even present moments where they appear multidimensional. While there are some sporadic moments where the film suffers from image softness, the viewing of A Single Shot is generally good.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is a bit of a surprise in its level of immersion. To be sure, the film's sound is generally quiet and/or dialogue-driven, but the dialogue is well-balanced and consistent. Channel panning in smaller moments such as when John walks over to pick up a ringing telephone or in directional effects such as the echoing of gunshots in the forest in the satellite channels is clean and effective listening. As for the gunshots, they occasionally have some low end engagement from the subwoofer to startle the listener. It is a better listening experience than one would anticipate.
There are a few things to digest on the disc, starting with a Making Of look at the film (26:19) that covers a lot of the usual EPK topics but seems to do them in a better way than most. Jones talks about how the book became available and the cast and crew share their thoughts on the material and the characters, and on the production in general. The cast recount their opinions on the characters they play and those they interact with, and the choice for the production to shoot on film. It is a nice piece. Following that are interviews with Rockwell (23:25) and Macy (6:41) as they talk about many of the same things, but in larger detail. Rockwell is nursing a cold during this and says as much, but also raves about the Cuban cigars and bourbon he enjoyed during the shoot. The trailer (1:32) completes things.
Several times during the extras the cast and crew mention that A Single Shot is a noir story (or is ‘noir-ish'), and while I can understand this in relation to the shoot, and the story contains elements of a good film, that the characters are established more out of assumption than anything else makes for a disappointing experience. A Single Shot could have been something special, but the sense of underachievement is palatable through the film. It is worth watching to see some of your favorite actors undergo the hillbilly dialects, but ultimately not memorable.