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Review and Roundup: Finger-Clenching Thriller 'A Single Shot' Stars Sam Rockwell, Kelly Reilly, William H. Macy

Photo of Tom Christie By Tom Christie | Thompson on Hollywood September 17, 2013 at 2:37PM

A dark, tightly wound backwoods thriller with a twist, "A Single Shot" premiered earlier this year at the Berlinale, and hits theaters September 20. It features uniformly fine performances by a cast including Sam Rockwell, Kelly Reilly, Jeffrey Wright and William H. Macy.
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A Single Shot

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A Single Shot

  • A Single Shot

    Sam Rockwell in 'A Single Shot'

A dark, tightly wound backwoods thriller with a twist, "A Single Shot" premiered earlier this year at the Berlinale, and hits theaters September 20. Well-designed and executed by director David M. Rosenthal ("Janie Jones") from Matthew F. Jones’s script and novel of the same name, the film features uniformly fine performances by a cast including Sam Rockwell as an unlucky ex-farmer and hunter, Kelly Reilly as his estranged wife, an unrecognizable Jeffrey Wright as his alcoholic friend, William H. Macy as a gimpy small-town lawyer, and Joe Anderson and Jason Isaacs as seriously creepy denizens of the deep, wet forestlands.

Atli Örvarsson’s eery score and Edward Grau’s claustrophobic cinematography further the finger-clenching suspense.

A review roundup is below:

Guardian:

As befits the blood-and-mud spattered backdrop, there's much gruesome razor-slicing and corpse-lugging on display: a forceful reminder, you would suppose, of the elemental natural forces at work. Only Rockwell's stunned fatalism as one horrible thing after another happens prevents things lurching entirely into Grand Guignol. There are a couple too many plotlines that go nowhere, one or two things that are telegraphed too obviously in advance and a score that presses too heavily on the pedal at key moments to give this film the precision it aspires to, but Rockwell's performance makes it worth watching.

Variety:

“A Single Shot” aims to serve up gritty backwoods noir but misses its target by some distance. Although this yarn about the violent repercussions triggered by an accidental shooting boasts a strong cast on paper, including Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright and William H. Macy, it’s marred by cliches bred in its wintry bones by Matthew F. Jones’ adaptation of his own novel, not helped by hackneyed helming from David S. Rosenthal (“Janie Jones”). Basically genre pulp with so-so moments.

Indiewire:

William H. Macy in 'A Single Shot'
William H. Macy in '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.

The Hollywood Reporter:

In the grisly backwoods yarn A Single Shot, William H. Macy makes a couple of brief appearances as a low-rent small-town lawyer. He wears a screamingly obvious toupee, a cheap plaid jacket and garishly mismatched floral tie, plus he has a limp, a gammy arm and a chronic case of the shakes. All that’s missing are ill-fitting dentures. In many ways, this heavy-handed caricature epitomizes David M. Rosenthal’s misjudged thriller, an inbred child of A Simple Plan and Winter’s Bone that aims for atmospheric literary tragedy but instead delivers overripe pulp with pretensions.

The Playlist:

The main narrative surrounding the evolution of David M. Rosenthal’s “A Single Shot,” which premieres at the Berlin Film Festival today, has been about the longer-than-usual casting merry-go-round -- since 2009 a roster of talent as long as your arm has signed up then signed out of the film. However the fear that, as the accepted wisdom goes, there must be something fundamentally wrong with a project that takes this long to put together was somewhat mitigated by the kind of names who kept on stepping up: as worrying as it might be to lose the likes of (pre-breakout) Michael Fassbender, Alessandro Nivola, Forest Whitaker or Juliette Lewis, it doesn’t sting so hard when you get Sam Rockwell, William H. Macy, Jeffrey Wright and Jason Isaacs to show up instead -- all actors we admire. Except in this case, accepted wisdom should again be accepted: “A Single Shot” does not add up to anywhere near the sum of its parts, and as individually impressive as any of those parts might be (Rockwell), we are left with a film that if not quite a Frankenstein’s monster, is certainly patchworky.

This article is related to: Berlin International Film Festival, Reviews, Reviews, Festivals, Festivals, Sam Rockwell


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.