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Review: ‘A Single Shot’

Fatalistic Thriller Boasts Strong Performance By Sam Rockwell

Sam Rockwell stars as John Moon in

Credit: Tribeca Films

Above: Sam Rockwell stars as John Moon in "A Single Shot."

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando reviews "A Single Shot."


If crime thrillers teach you anything it’s this: If you find stolen money don’t take it. It only leads to bad things. “A Single Shot” (opening September 20 at Reading Gaslamp Theaters) explores what happens when you don't follow this advice.

A single shot changes John Moon’s life forever. His bullet, intended for a deer, brings down a young woman. As John (Sam Rockwell) tries to hide the body, he discovers a large stash of money and takes it. He thinks it’ll provide the means of winning his estranged wife (Kelly Reily) and son back. But his second-rate lawyer (played to uncomfortable perfection by William H. Macy in a deliberately bad wig) warns, one mistake could ruin not just John’s life but that of his son.

Pitt: There’s the boy to think about, Nolan.

Moon: He ain’t in this.

Pitt: Course he’s in this, he’s your son. Most problems John aren’t as bad as they seem. The thing is you have to deal with it before people get backed into corners.

Moon: You got something to say, spit it out.

Pitt: There’s so many overlapping interests in a small town, John.

As a hunter, Moon should understand the danger posed by a cornered animal. Unfortunately, he realizes it too late. A pair of men come looking for the money and the girl, and turn to violent extremes to discover the fate of both. But Moon too feels like a cornered animal. He wants his family back and he's willing to take an extreme risk to try and achieve that.

The acting in "A SIngle Shot" is top notch. In addition to Macy's oily performance, there's Rockwell's serious turn as the struggling Moon, and Jeffrey Wright as his perpetually drunk friend. The actors create a bleak sense of realism as events spiral out of control.

“A Single Shot” doesn’t cover new terrain. It takes the found stolen money of Sam Raimi's “A Simple Plan,” and adds in the claustrophobic atmosphere and harsh violence of “Winter’s Bone.” But “A Single Shot” tackles the familiar with a solid sense of craftsmanship. Director David M. Rosenthal and writer Matthew F. Jones (adapting from his own novel) build a steady sense of tension, punctuated by brief but effective scenes of violence. They also do what so few films manage, deliver a itch perfect ending.

In “A Simple Plan," Bill Paxton's character says, “You work for the American Dream--you don't steal it." “A Single Shot” serves up a fatalistic tale about the grim consequences of taking shortcuts to the American Dream.

Here's the trailer for "A Single Shot."

"A SIngle Shot" is rated for some strong violence, sexual content, nudity, language and brief drug use.

Companion viewing: "A Simple Plan," "Winter's Bone," "The Deer Hunter"

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