Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Review: Sam Rockwell Returns to His Dark Side With Haunting Backwoods Noir 'A Single Shot'

Photo of Eric Kohn By Eric Kohn | Indiewire September 18, 2013 at 8:48AM

Even before John Moon, the lonely woodsman played by Sam Rockwell at the center of David M. Rosenthal's "A Single Shot," accidentally shoots a young woman while hunting the desolate area near his trailer, his world has fallen apart. Rosenthal's adaptation of Matthew F. Jones' 1996 novel features a familiar arrangement of criminal events and showdowns, but the movie compensates for much of its familiar shortcomings with an effectively ominous atmosphere. The opening minutes, in which the grave-faced, bearded John roams the countryside in search of prey, establish a sense of isolation that dominates the movie and nearly rescues it from the formula that eventually takes shape.
2
A Single Shot

Even before John Moon, the lonely woodsman played by Sam Rockwell at the center of David M. Rosenthal's "A Single Shot," accidentally shoots a young woman while hunting the desolate area near his trailer, his world has fallen apart. Rosenthal's adaptation of Matthew F. Jones' 1996 novel features a familiar arrangement of criminal events and showdowns, but the movie compensates for much of its familiar shortcomings with an effectively ominous atmosphere. The opening minutes, in which the grave-faced, bearded John roams the countryside in search of prey, establish a sense of isolation that dominates the movie and nearly rescues it from the formula that eventually takes shape.

Following that inadvertent death, John scrambles to hide the body before discovering a pile of money in the late woman's tent. In a desperate bid to win back his estranged wife (Kelly Reilly) and their young child, John stashes the money, only to find himself on the receiving end of intimidating phone calls and threats of violence from an unseen stalker inexplicable aware of John's crimes. While something of a detective story as John scrambles to figure out the identity of his assailant, "A Single Shot" frequently wanders away from the stakes of the situation to explore the despair-riddled purgatory that defines John's existence.

Rosenthal -- whose last movie, the competent drama "Janie Jones," involved another deadbeat dad trying to make right with his family -- has experience sustaining overdone material with mood. In "A Single Shot," he struggles to make the precise circumstances as involving as the world surrounding them and ultimately comes up short, but it's nonetheless a strong showcase for the talent involved. Rockwell has indulged in lively, eccentric roles of late, but "A Single Shot" brings him back to "Snow Angels" territory with a downbeat turn that shows his subtler instincts. As his alcoholic buddy Simon, Jeffrey Wright also takes a step beyond his familiar turf, delivering a performance defined by rambling outbursts and unseemly physicality.

Jones' screenplay elegantly explores these characters' despondent state to the point where "A Single Shot" only really suffers from a conflict between the haunting aura of each scene and various attempts to pick up the pace. The suspense comes and goes, but "A Single Shot" always maintains a firm grip on its sad, deteriorating environment. A classy backcountry noir in the tradition of "Winter's Bone" and "A Simple Plan," the movie never clearly defines its main villains; everyone's pretty suspicious. A jarringly quirky William H. Macy surfaces as the town's suspiciously knowledgable lawyer, while John's pretty sure newly released prisoner and local troublemaker Obadiah (Joe Anderson) has something to do with the conspiracy to win back the cash.

But "A Single Shot" shows less interest in these men than the vanity drowning all of them. There's no apparent escape from their troubles aside from death. Cinematographer Eduard Grau's collection of dark greens and browns deepen connectivity of this incessantly depressing world, where hardly anybody cracks a sincere smile save for the woman John randomly sleeps with to pass his time.

Viewed exclusively on these terms, "A Single Shot" holds plenty of interest, though the plot never manages to reach the gripping heights of the chilly air surrounding it. The mopey soundtrack, replete with shrieking violins at nearly every intense twist, sounds like a desperate bid to push the despair into poetic territory. It only gets about halfway there. Throughout the increasingly dire proceedings, Rosenthal creates a sense of buildup that's eventually a tease. But while "A Single Shot" fires more than a few blanks, it still manages to make them resonate.

Criticwire grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY? Tribeca Film releases "A Single Shot"in several cities this Friday after making it available on VOD several weeks ago. While the genre and star of the film may help it perform well in ancillary markets, the bleak setting and mixed reviews limit its theatrical prospects.

This article is related to: Reviews, Crime, A Single Shot, Sam Rockwell, David M. Rosenthal






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More