David M. Rosenthal’s new film, “A Single Shot,” adapted from Matthew F. Jones’ novel of the same name, is a sad, failed attempt at bravado. A messy amalgam of the weak writing, lifeless cast, and disastrous soundtrack, this so-called thriller is anything but suspenseful.
Star Sam Rockwell plays protagonist John Moon, who unintentionally shoots a girl while on a hunting trip. After the girl dies, John discovers a large stash of money in her tent. Gripped by the possibility of winning back his estranged family, he takes the cash and covers up the killing. The situation escalates when it turns out that the money belongs to a group of drug dealers.
Despite the fact that Jones wrote the script himself, the plot becomes quickly muddled. For one, the distribution of screen time is noticeably lopsided—John’s relationship with his neighbor’s daughter Abbie garners more sympathy than that with his wife Moira, and his interactions with criminal Obadiah and friend Simon contribute little more than vague profanities.
Mishmashes of random, no-good characters do not come together in a natural and satisfactory way, and the screen adaptation never quite demonstrates these characters’ significance to the story. Perhaps one of the clumsiest moments in the writing is Simon’s monologue, an uninspired lament of how unreasonable things become more reasonable with increasing drunkenness.
The directing isn’t much better. Rosenthal may have intended to depict the extreme gruesomeness of humans, but much of the violence seems gratuitous. The film’s portrayal of the junkie, backwoods south is hackneyed to the point of thoughtlessness. William H. Macy’s cliché of a character is a dithering, small-town lawyer who wears an ill-fitting suit jacket and gets mixed up in bad business. The male characters are generally gruff, dirty, unshaven, khaki-wearing gun-toters, and the female characters unscrupulous, prospectless figures used to advance the plot of the male characters. All actors become insanely difficult to understand through their belligerent mumbling.
The lack of convincing villains certainly doesn’t help, and the entire supporting cast is weak. Kelly Reilly, who portrays John’s wife, has no emotional range and no chemistry with costar Rockwell.
The soundtrack is the amateur cherry on top. The strident, random edginess that permeated every moment of the film is no doubt intended to heighten the tension, but—like the rest of the film—it ends up overextended and distracting.
Rosenthal cites the Coen brothers, Terrence Malick, Akira Kurosawa, and even Stanley Kubrick as influences. Imitative characteristics of these directors’ films may come through in patches, but Rosenthal fails to contribute any aspect of originality. This film ultimately flops and fires not a single interesting shot.
“A Single Shot” is showing at the AMC Empire 25, 234 West 42nd St.