David M. Rosenthal's noir, backwoods drama A Single Shot is a serious of ambitious almosts. Sam Rockwell's downtrodden John Moon trudges through rural Upstate New York, illegally poaching wildlife to keep from starving when he accidentally shoots a young woman carrying a massive load of cash, some of which he gives to his estranged wife Moira (Kelly Reilly). It's not long before the woman's criminal boyfriend Waylon and his cohort Obediah (Jason Issacs and Joe Anderson) begin threatening John and Moira in hopes of securing the cash, and from there, the film feels like an odorous potpourri, full of top grade ingredients that don't quite come together.
A Single Shot seems to be uncertain of its own point of view, bringing in the classic, squirrely soundtrack of a horror flick whenever the imminent danger of Waylon's wrath rears its head. The horror-esque elements come in stark contrast to the hyper-realism of John Moon's dim, harsh universe.
It certainly conveys the stomach-rattling feeling of danger interrupting one's quiet, unassuming life, but in a way that's so jarring and campy, that we're pushed out of the universe of the film, and thus John Moon's dire situation.
The story, which writer Matthew F. Jones adapted from his own novel of the same name, is somewhat problematic in and of itself, delivering a meandering plot and oblique views of practically every character in the deck except John.
Moira is especially flat: a sweet-faced woman who left John when he needed her most, she's little more than the object of John's hopeless affection. Reilly, veteran of the British stage and winner of an Olivier award for her performance in 2003's After Miss Julie, is a wildly talented actress destined for characters who test her, unlike Moira, who's written in a way that gives her little room to act as anything other than a beautiful, sad china doll for John to pine after.
Rockwell, who's known more widely for his formidable comedic abilities in films like Seven Psychopaths and even Iron Man 2, proves himself to be a talented dramatic actor. Lucky for him, John Moon is the film's only truly complex character, stuck between his own stubborn pride and his certain doom. He's broke and abandoned by his wife and child because he refuses to work jobs that don't fulfill his desire to work on a farm after losing his father's land.
The issue of pride and deep financial strife could serve as a telling depiction of the economic consequences of progress on the nation's more old-fashioned trades and communities, but the hyperbolic presentation of the mystery tormenting John Moon prevents any of that realism from truly sinking in.
Still, Rockwell's deeply heartbreaking performance cuts like a knife through the white noise of the rest of the film, which finds Issacs' Waylon behaving like a revenge-hungry creature from Middle Earth, Obediah acting as a cryptic and fanatical follower, and William H. Macy as a crooked lawyer with an unsatisfying and completely predictable dark secret.
And while Rockwell delivers a fantastic performance, as expected, the only true effect of A Single Shot is the hope that he and his co-stars find other films in which their talents can be put to better use. Each and every one of them deserve a film that's more than almost great.
The film hits theaters Sept. 20.
[Images: A Single Shot Official]