Sam Rockwell is one of the greatest actors working today. If you’re not already in agreement with me, look over his diverse body of work. Rockwell has killed roles, both lead and supporting, in movies as weird as Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, as shattering as Conviction, and as breathtakingly original as Moon. Along the way, he’s played integral parts in classics like The Green Mile and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. He’s one of my favorite actors because, no matter how many great roles I see him in, he just sells it every time.
A Single Shot, a relentlessly bleak and atmospheric noir drama, is no exception. As hunter John Moon, who accidentally shoots and kills a young woman, only to uncover a huge amount of money she was guarding, Rockwell is absolutely terrific. It’s a very physical part for the actor, but Rockwell still manages to communicate a lot about Moon’s lone-dog nature in surprisingly subtle ways. As the film opens, we’re introduced to Moon’s miserably isolated existence. He lives, apart from society, quietly nursing his wounds after losing his job and his family in rapid succession. He’s a prideful man, his morose demeanor hiding layers of anger and confusion, and Rockwell allows us to slowly gain a complete picture of what makes Moon tick. When Moon’s tragic mistake results in a windfall of cash, Rockwell also gives us a front-row seat from which to view the uncertainties and weaknesses that slowly but surely unravel him.
Moon’s downward spiral is undoubtedly the center point of the film, and director David Rosenthal’s dedication to constructing an eerie, morose atmosphere around the character communicates a sense of impending doom that mirrors Moon’s moral turpitude. Through Rosenthal’s lens, every frame of A Single Shot is dark and deep, gorgeous and desolate. The gloom that fills every shot feels increasingly pervasive as an invisible net closes around Moon, blocking off every escape route and sealing him into a melancholy fate of his own design.
With its impressively somber atmosphere and Rockwell’s transfixing performance, it’s a damnable shame that the rest of A Single Shot doesn’t quite measure up. Though each member of the film’s excellent cast does individually strong work, their efforts are marred by a script that never weaves the characters together into a compelling, coherent narrative. A Single Shot is undoubtedly Rockwell’s show, but it’s still disappointing that all of the other characters are so noticeably underwritten.
William H. Macy is unforgivably underused as a shady, Saul Goodman-esque lawyer by the name of Daggard Pitt, getting only a few scenes to build an unfortunately tenuous connection to the main story. Meanwhile, Jason Isaacs shows up as a tattooed thug who lacks the depth to back up his menacing appearance. The same goes for Joe Anderson, enjoyably nasty but never believable, and Jeffrey Wright, playing a habitual drunk whose incomprehensibility is doubly saddening because he’s expected to communicate a whole lot of plot through slurred monologue. The two lead female roles in A Single Shot, Kelly Reilly as Moon’s estranged wife and Ophelia Lovibond as a local girl with an ill-fated crush on Moon, do the best they can with limited roles, but two-dimensional characterization fatally undercuts both of their efforts.
Without a supporting cast prominent enough to complement Rockwell’s strong performance, A Single Shot flounders when it attempts to do more than wallow in Moon’s misfortunes. The predictable storyline doesn’t hold many surprises, and the film’s slow-burn style sometimes moves at a dull crawl. Things pick up in time for the pulse-pounding climax, but it’s too little, too late, and the script never works hard enough to craft a satisfying story.
As a character piece, A Single Shot is solid, and Rockwell does fine work. However, that’s not enough to ignore the film’s shortcomings. Rosenthal’s atmosphere is certainly gorgeous to behold, but A Single Shot feels inescapably empty. Moon’s spiral into ruin is reminiscent of similar character arcs in much more fully-formed films like A Simple Plan and No Country for Old Men, but A Single Shot lacks the narrative pull of both those movies, and so its excessive two-hour runtime ends up dragging. With so much creeping melancholia on screen and a conventional plot that never adds up to much of anything, the only nagging question I was left with as A Single Shot‘s credits rolled was what the point of it all had been.
The Blu-Ray for A Single Shot received a solid 1080p transfer that retains the film’s somber visual style. The dark, pale colors of the film look great, and Rosenthal’s choice to shoot on film, as opposed to digital, was the right one. If you’re interesting in checking out A Single Shot, the Blu-Ray is absolutely the best way to truly immerse yourself in Rosenthal’s moody, evocative atmosphere.
The film is equipped with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track, which effectively contributes to A Single Shot‘s mounting suspense. Dialogue is mostly clear throughout, and the instances in which it’s hard to decipher what is being said can more be attributed to mumbling from the actors than to any failure on the part of the audio track. Background sounds like birds singing and wind moving through trees are also very well-implemented, as are sharp, sudden sounds like gunshots and the shrill ringing of a telephone. As a whole, the track is forceful and satisfactory.
The special features on the disc are unfortunately minimal, including:
- “The Making Of A Single Shot“
- Interviews with Sam Rockwell and William H. Macy
Yep, that’s it. Luckily, the “Making Of” mini-documentary runs a solid 26 minutes and allows for some insight into what it was like shooting the film. All of the main cast members sit down to give their two cents on what drew them to the film and their experiences working with Sam Rockwell and David Rosenthal (surprise, surprise, none of the people interviewed have less than glowing praise for each of them). The feature can get a little redundant at times, but it’s interesting to see how Rosenthal approached filming certain scenes, and several of the actors’ comments on accents are fun to hear. Sadly, there’s little analysis of A Single Shot as a whole, which feels like a missed opportunity.
The two interviews included are surprisingly dull, given the extraordinary talents of the two men on camera. Rockwell’s runs an excessive 23 minutes, during which he profusely praises everyone he worked with during the film and explains his approach to playing John Moon. Macy’s interview, on the other hand, feels too slight at just under 7 minutes. A significant amount of the footage from each interview is recycled into the “Making Of” feature, so only a handful of extra sound bites make the interviews worth watching in their own right.
Though the special features disappoint, Blu-Ray is still the best format in which to watch a movie as devoted to eerie visuals as A Single Shot. The transfer does a great job of pulling you into the film’s hauntingly beautiful cinematography, and nothing is less than satisfactory about the disc’s audio track.
Despite a compelling turn from Sam Rockwell and David Rosenthal’s sense for atmosphere building, A Single Shot is undone by a weak script that fails to implement an above-average supporting cast or provide much of a reason for all the doom and gloom.
Sam Rockwell's strong performance and a gorgeously eerie atmosphere can't save this noirish thriller from a weak script that buries its excellent supporting cast under a mountain of dispiriting gloominess.