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Single Shot, A
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by Jay Seaver

"Worth a shot, but a bit off-target."
3 stars

There are two general ways a "bag of money" movie can go: Navigating the intricate set-up that is revealed through a constant series of revelations and double-crosses that the anti-hero must navigate in order to keep the cash that has fallen into his lap is generally the primary activity, but giving the audience a good look at the desperate environment people will kill to escape can occasionally eclipse it. "A Single Shot" does each passably well, even if it doesn't necessarily achieve greatness in either.

The man who stumbles upon this windfall is John Moon (Sam Rockwell), who could use some help: His wife Moira (Kelly Reilly) has left him with their baby in tow, and his best prospect for employment comes from Cecile (Ted Levine), the man who bought his family farm after the bank took it. His friend Simon (Jeffrey Wright) refers him to a lawyer (William H. Macy) to deal with the first problem; for the second, he's living off the land, poaching. That's when he finds the dead girl, and while trying to hide her body, the box full of money.

Naturally, there are plenty who would rather John not keep that money for himself, and perhaps one or two folks whose good feelings he would like to reacquire. The great examples of this genre build a web out of those strands such that it's hard to pull on one without disturbing another, and writer Matthew F. Jones (adapting his own novel) does that fairly well in spots. There's one section of the structure that looks fairly elegant, for example, while others seem held together by flimsy coincidence. Other parts simply come loose, requiring replacements before the finale. It's not the ideal thriller design, but is acceptable enough because John's never going to be the sort of character that is going to outwit his enemies.

He's not stupid, although the filmmakers and actor Sam Rockwell are willing to let the audience think so. The often-manic Rockwell plays somewhat against type here, hiding his expressive face behind a thick beard and using a slow rumble when he does speak (to the point where he can be a bit hard to understand). We don't ever see him drinking to excess or doing drugs, but he gives John the uneasy cautiousness often associated with those states, so that when he does figure things out, it's not so much a eureka moment as him not falling behind as the pieces fit together. He does that while also being able to make John a man of action when he needs to be, not paralyzed by desperation.

Rockwell plays against a nice ensemble of character actors playing memorably low-rent, maybe exaggerating these rural folks a bit but always making their purpose clear. Take William H. Macy, who kind of milks it in his handful of scenes as the small-town lawyer; he makes Pitt a cheerfully condescending weasel who is not nearly as superior to the small-town folks he's surrounded by as he thinks, but he's given enough ways to show it - dark but tacky suits, a limp - that it becomes a little much. Jeffrey Wright lays the drunk on pretty thick, for his part, and Jason Isaacs and Joe Anderson almost seem a bit small by giving well-measured performances as the more threatening guys John encounters. Kely Reilly is a good fit as the ex-wife, plenty flawed on her own but neither really bitchy nor looking like she really wants to come back, and Ophelia Lovibond is a decent late addition as the young neighbor who takes an interest in John, even if she does sort of feel like a stand-in.

That Abbie feels like a substitute for Moira is an example of how director David M. Rosenthal often seems to mis-step at crucial points. The inciting scene, for instance, is staged and edited so that it doesn't particularly seem like John was shooting in the direction of the girl, even though certain aspects of the movie make a lot more sense if he hasn't just found her. Several other important scenes are more confusing and less informative than they need to be, as well. Still, Rosenthal is able to tell a story with a striking image when he gets hold of one, and the last few minutes sum the movie - and the genre - up nicely.

It would be nice if things were a little more exciting getting there. Rosenthal and company do a fine job of creating a story that fits together well and Rockwell is good as well, but "A Single Shot" very seldom creates anticipation of what's going to happen next or curiosity at how things tie together. It beats being the sort of movie that falls apart, but it's missing the little tingle that jumps a good crime story to a great thriller.

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originally posted: 09/06/13 11:52:35
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2013 Tribeca Film Festival For more in the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival series, click here.

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  20-Sep-2013 (R)
  DVD: 14-Jan-2014



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