Wednesday, August 21, 2013


A SINGLE SHOT: Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Kelly Reilly, Jason Isaacs, directed by David M. Rosenthal (115 min.)

Editing can make or break a film.  Everything on a picture comes together in the editing room, and clumsy cut and paste can hinder continuity, mood, and momentum of any movie out there.  A Single Shot, the new thriller starring the great Sam Rockwell, seems to suffer from editing malfunctions along the way.  What could have been a slick, mean, dark mountain thriller turns into a choppy, slow, sometimes confused drama with bright spots that are undercut by a lack of explanation.  The film looks great, the performances are compelling, but if the structure of the film cannot support the acting, then you get something that is ultimately a mess.

Rockwell stars as John Moon, an uneducated mountain man living high in the grey, damp hills of West Virginia.  As the film opens, John is poaching deer deep in the woods, and one of his blind shots into the trees hits and kills a young woman.  John's investigation leads him to an area in the woods where the woman was apparently living.  This is the first of many unclear transitions.  At the woman's hideout, john finds a box full of cash, stashes the body, and returns to his life in town.  His life consists of a wife (Flight's Kelly Reilly) and a young son who have kicked him out because he can't keep a job.  John sees the money as a way to win his family back, but here comes the next problem with the film's structure; John never really uses the cash for anything except to pay a shady lawyer named Daggard Pitt (William H. Macy) to do, something.  Then the cash is virtually forgotten as certain shady characters come looking and threatening John and those close to him. 

There is a subplot involving a family friend, Cecile (Ted Levine), who offers John a good job on his farm.  That never goes anywhere, it only involves Cecile's daughter, Abbie, who always appears on a horse.  Then there is yet another subplot involving John's friend, Simon, played masterfully by Jeffrey Wright.  Simon is involved in a murder, but some other murder that doesn't tie directly in with the plot.  Or maybe it does, nothing is ever shown correctly.  The two baddies in search of the money are Waylon (an unrecognizable Jason Isaacs) and Obadiah (Joe Anderson), who are never given any real motivation or reasoning behind their pursuit of the cash.  They exist to threaten our hero, John, who is acted upon and never does anything to push the plot forward. 

The final act of A Single Shot improves the film as the tension mounts and John is forced to confront the psychotic Waylon, but it only strengthens things as it is a singular moment of taut conflict.  The confrontation is resolved a little too easily, tied up a bit too neatly, and the next thing you know the story has been wrapped up.  Despite all of the great tension in these final moments, things are once again undercut by rushed editing and simplicity in the screenplay.  Everything that happens raises questions and ignores answers, leaving the actors bouncing from one choppy moment to the next, lacking any clear motivation or destination.

A Single Shot was directed by David M. Rosenthal, and he does a solid job with the look and the feel of the film.  The West Virginia locations are dark, damp, and ominous, and thanks to a wonderful cast of accomplished and magnetic performers, the acting remains solid.  I have no real issues with the way Rosenthal directed here.  But I do wonder what editor Dan Robinson was thinking as he was piecing together the film.  Everything about it is choppy.  Scenes happen, then we move to the next scene with no clear explanation as to why or what we are doing here, subplots appear and disappear and don't seem to tie in to the main storyline.  The money is introduced early, then forgotten for a great stretch of time as we learn about these characters.  I wish more attention would have been paid in the editing room, because there is a solid thriller at the core of A Single Shot. We just aren't allowed to see it.